Archive for Wednesday, September 13, 2000

Let the Games begin

Mired in controversy, IOC anxious for start of Olympics

September 13, 2000

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— For the International Olympic Committee, the Sydney Games can't begin soon enough.

Hardly a day has gone by over the past week without the IOC taking hits on its reputation.

From continuing fallout over the Salt Lake City scandal, to criticism of its anti-doping policy, to allegations of criminal activities among its "Olympic family," the IOC can't seem to keep away from controversy.

Said IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch: "Every day there is a surprise."

The latest storm centers on revelations that Samaranch lobbied the Indonesian government to let IOC member Mohamad "Bob" Hasan, a detained associate of the former dictator Suharto, attend the Sydney Games.

Hasan faces trial next week, accused of embezzling $87 million of state money. He has denied any wrongdoing.

In Jakarta, the Indonesian government Tuesday sharply criticized the IOC for its appeal.

"The ethics involved are quite odd," said Attorney General Maruki Darusman. "It contravenes the spirit of the Olympics."

After a story about Samaranch's intervention was published in the Wall Street Journal, the IOC released the text of the letter written by Samaranch to Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid.

The letter, dated April 26, notes that Hasan is the IOC member in Indonesia and serves as a high-ranking official in international track and field.

"We are expecting Indonesia to send a strong team to the Games of the XXVII Olympiad in Sydney, Australia, next September," Samaranch wrote.

"Your continued support for the development of sport and Olympism in Indonesia and to the volunteer officials involved in sport would be highly appreciated."

Darusman said there was no way Hasan, Suharto's one-time golfing buddy and a prime financial adviser, would be freed from detention before his trial.

Suharto, who ruled Indonesia with an iron fist for 32 years before being forced from office in a violent 1998 student uprising, also is facing a corruption trial. He is charged with siphoning about $570 million from state coffers to bankroll huge business empires run by his children and cronies. He denies the charges.

IOC vice president Dick Pound said the IOC had an obligation to all its members to lobby on their behalf to allow them to attend the Olympics, and was defending Hasan out of "collegial loyalty."

"It's entirely appropriate that the IOC try and help any member who may be being detained without having been convicted," he said.

The Hasan controversy comes only days after confirmation that Olympic boxing official Gafur Rakhimov of Uzbekistan and basketball administrator Carl Ching of Hong Kong were denied entry by the Australian government.

Both men have been accused of links with organized crime.

Samaranch wrote Australian Prime Minister John Howard seeking an explanation. Without giving specifics, Howard replied the decision was made for security reasons.

In addition, Australian immigration officials said they had allowed in 20 and 40 accredited officials who normally would have been kept out.

The incidents have received major coverage in the Australian press, which has been zealous in reporting on the troubles of the IOC and local Sydney organizers.

Pound, who has been harshly critical of the Australian media, said the IOC should not take too much notice of the barrage of negative coverage.

"Any time an organization considers it lives and dies by headlines it loses track of where it's going," he said.

But Pound acknowledged the IOC still must prove to the public it is serious about changing its image and implementing the reforms adopted in the wake of the bribery scandal surrounding Salt Lake City's bid for the 2002 Winter Games.

"We have the procedures and structures in place," he said. "But we still have to live it. We have to show day by day we are acting the way we said we would."

Pound said the IOC would also have to live with the renewed attacks on its anti-doping efforts. Last week, a U.S. study criticized the IOC and other sports organizations for failing to do enough to combat the use of banned performance-enhancing drugs.

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