PtG Article 10.06.2009

Olympic host bidding – has the IOC cleaned up its act?

Dick Pound, former WADA boss and leading IOC reformer, told Play the Game about the changes brought in by the IOC in the wake of the Salt Lake City bribery scandal.

After the US city was chosen to host the games in 1999, he said, the Olympic movement was subjected to a “firestorm of criticism” arising from proven allegations that members of its bidding committee routinely solicited and accepted bribes.

While many believed that similar corruption had occurred during other bidding processes, Pound related, no other candidate cities were willing to come forward with evidence. “No city was without sin”, he said.

A procedure under which IOC committee members were entertained by candidate cities was a “ticking time bomb”, he admitted. “It must have been clear to the IOC that its guidelines were being ignored”, he said. “But no action was taken”.

After the Salt Lake City story broke, Pound was offered a job chairing the IOC committee set up to investigate the scandal – a position he accepted willingly, despite knowing that it would not boost his popularity within the IOC.

“Organisations like the reputation of being clean”, he said. “But if there is cleaning to be done, they don’t like the cleaner”

The committee’s three working groups, which included members who were independent of the IOC, came up with a total of fifty reforms. Prominent among them was a major shake up of how national IOC representation takes place, a ban on IOC members visiting potential host cities, and a limitation on the number of IOC members per country. The investigation led directly to the removal or resignation of at least ten IOC members, and a dozen or more were reprimanded.

Today, the bidding process is very different to what it was in 1999, Pound said. It is divided into an applicant phase and a candidacy phase, he said, and the reforms have gone a long way to preventing the formation of relationships that could potentially become corupt.

Pound concluded by stating that in his opinion, the bidding processes for London 2012 and Beijing 2008 were “quite defendable”. In both cases, he said, the former spectacle of IOC members being lavishly entertained by candidate cities was absent. Indeed, no such visits by IOC members took place, thus removing the physical contact that potentially leads to corruption

“Whether you can say that there was no [wrongdoing], I cannot say. I don’t know of any, and I hope there wasn’t”, he said

Ultimately, the prevention of bribery is not about individuals, he said, it is about good governance. Hopefully, the right structures are now in place to ensure that the suitability of the city is the deciding factor in any winning bid - not the generosity of its officials.