editorial 602 

If they ever decide to rank the all-time greatest Olympians the IOC’s Marc Hodler should get a gold medal, in hypocrisy. As the whole world knows, the 2002 Winter Olympics have become one giant scrambled egg on the face of Salt Lake City as new "revelations" come to light almost daily about "scholarships" and "gifts" given to various IOC members prior to the awarding of the Games. The IOC and three separate American judicial bodies are all now diligently trying to get to the bottom of a scandal that everyone has known about but turned a blind eye to for years. Hodler, the Octogenarian Swiss who headed the FIS from the days when the Vikings used a single pole to propel themselves around the countryside on 12-foot skis until he stepped down last summer, is being credited with blowing the whistle on Olympic bribery. But it was under Hodler’s watch at the FIS that the buying of votes for World Cup and world championship events spiralled out of control. As Dr. Peter Andrew, a Vancouver dentist and member of the FIS Council, said a year and a half ago, at the 1996 FIS Congress in Christchurch, New Zealand: "There was lots of buying of votes... It got pretty vicious." So the FIS changed the system, although there is no indication Hodler pushed for the changes. Now only the FIS Council members vote on world championship bids, and only after the bids have passed the scrutiny of a technical committee. Although it was a Salt Lake City television station that in November first reported the scholarships handed out by Salt Lake officials to relatives of IOC members, it was Hodler’s subsequent allegation — that all recent successful Olympic bids have involved vote buying — that caught international attention. There is a theory as to why Hodler has stepped forward now. His hometown of Sion, Switzerland lost to Salt Lake City for the right to host the 2002 Games and is now bidding for the 2006 Winter Olympics. Sion is up against several other European cities but its chief competition is believed to be Sestriere, Italy, site of the 1997 World Alpine Skiing Championships. Sion undoubtedly has some experience in bidding for the Olympics but whether it can match the money behind Sestriere is doubtful. The Agnelli family owns the lift company and major real estate holdings in Sestriere, but they made their fortune through their ownership of the Fiat car company, based in nearby Turin. The theory among some is that Hodler went public with the Olympic bribery allegations in order to level the playing field between Sestriere and Sion. According to Ski Racing newspaper, Hodler has already accused Gianni Agnelli of handing out free vans to secure votes to bring the 1997 world championships to Sestriere, a claim which Agnelli denies. This week Hodler was quoted as saying: "The worst consequence would be the Games cannot take place in 2002. We need to keep them in Salt Lake or have them somewhere else." Somewhere like Sion, perhaps? There is a chance that the Olympic bidding process will become "cleaner" and selections made more on merit than on money as a result of the Salt Lake City mess and Hodler’s allegations, and that should help Vancouver-Whistler’s bid for the 2010 Games. But with some estimates placing the economic impact of the Games at between $5 billion and $7 billion in government and private investment, tourist spending and related income, there may be too much at stake ... but whether the motivation to clean up the bidding process was pure is another question.


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