editorial 

The Italian city of Turin was chosen last weekend to host the 2006 Winter Olympics over Sion, Switzerland, but the decision shows the International Olympic Committee still has a long way to go to clean up its act. A new selection procedure was used in the wake of scandals surrounding the Salt Lake City bid for the 2002 Games. Instead of allowing all IOC members to vote for one of the six cities bidding for the 2006 Olympics, a 16-member panel selected two finalists, Turin and Sion. IOC members then voted for one of the two finalists. Turin won the final vote, 59-36, and immediately there were suggestions that the vote was a backlash against Swiss IOC member, and former FIS president, Marc Hodler, who hails from the Sion area. Hodler was the one who escalated the controversy surrounding Salt Lake City’s successful bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics. After a Salt Lake City TV station revealed last fall that relatives of IOC delegates were given scholarships and jobs by the city, Hodler came forward and said that "gifts" and "favours" were a routine part of virtually all Olympic bids in recent years, and that the bidding process was ripe with such graft. The consequences of Hodler’s allegations are still being felt. Several IOC members resigned, others were kicked out, in Washington Congressional panels have been holding hearings into the way the IOC runs its operations and the FBI wants to talk to IOC members. And, as shown last weekend, the process of choosing an Olympic site has been changed. Some have praised Hodler for helping to bring an end to nepotism and vote buying, but some in the ski industry saw an ulterior motive in the Octogenarian’s pronouncements. They pointed to the bid for the 2006 Winter Olympics, which six cities contested but which Sion and Turin were always the favourites. The biggest difference between the Turin bid and the Sion bid, they said, was that Turin’s bid was backed by the Agnelli family, which owns Fiat, the Sestriere ski area, and is one of the wealthiest families in Italy. Turin organizers say they had budgeted $5 million for hospitality to IOC members. Sion, by comparison, had no wealthy industrialist backing its bid and couldn’t possibly compete with Turin if it came down to gifts and favours for IOC delegates. So, the theory goes, Hodler blew the whistle to level the playing field. But Hodler’s strategy appears to have backfired, with IOC members voting against Sion, and by extension Hodler, for doing away with the vacations and gifts they used to get as a part of each city’s bid. Even the 16-member selection panel was controversial. Many IOC members refused to support former Olympic champion Jean Claude Killy on the panel, the implication being he was too close to the Swiss bid. The final vote for Turin outraged Sion supporters, many of whom had spent the whole night waiting in the town square for the IOC’s decision. Some took out their frustrations on the IOC’s building and statues in nearby Lausanne. With so much at stake in an Olympic bid some anger and disappointment at losing may be understandable. But in this instance it suggests the painful, cathartic process the IOC has gone through in the last eight months isn’t complete. Sion, which has been unsuccessful in bids for the 1976, 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics, has said it won’t bid again. But that may be an initial reaction following what bid organizers see as a vendetta against Sion. In a couple of years, even if there is another selection procedure in place, there may be a strong element of sympathy for a city which has bid three times for the Games. If that is the case, the main competitor to the Vancouver-Whistler 2010 bid may have been crowned last weekend.

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