IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch told skeptical lawmakers today that the IOC has become more open, accountable and responsive following widespread abuses in the selection of Atlanta and Salt Lake City as Olympic hosts.
"I think we've cleaned the house and a fundamental reform package has been adopted," Samaranch said in his first ever appearance before a congressional panel.
But lawmakers greeted the 79-year-old Spaniard with open disbelief that the 50 reforms the International Olympic Committee adopted last weekend in Switzerland will be implemented fully. And one, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, reiterated his call for Samaranch to resign the post he has held since 1980.
"I would like for you to announce today that you will resign," Barton said. "It's time for some new blood and some new leadership. And this would be a great setting for you to be a true statesman of sport and announce that."
Samaranch did not respond directly to Barton when he delivered his opening statement. Instead, he used it to retrace the IOC's actions in the year since the allegations of vote buying in the selection of Salt Lake City as host of the 2002 Winter Olympics became known.
Samaranch said many of the reforms approved by the IOC last weekend already have been implemented, including a ban on future visits by IOC members to cities competing for the games. And he assured the House Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations that the rest of the reforms will be implemented before the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia, are over.
Samaranch faced anything but polite questioning from some lawmakers who grilled him about a reported $500,000-a-year hotel suite the IOC maintains for him in Switzerland, about his wife's acceptance of a $12,000 trip from organizers of the Atlanta games and about the IOC failure to apply the new reforms to its president.
Samaranch denounced reports of the luxury hotel suite as "a lie." He said he encouraged his wife to take the Atlanta trip and blamed the Atlanta organizers for being overly hospitable. He insisted there was no need for the reforms to apply to him.
Speaking through a translator, Samaranch said he first became aware that cities seeking the Olympics were providing gifts and other amenities to IOC members in 1984, when Los Angeles won the Summer Games. But he said the IOC was not able to take action to stop such abuses before this year because no one ever provided the committee with names of offending members.
"We can only take action at the IOC when we have complete facts," he said.
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the panel, said statements by IOC members following the meeting last weekend give him little confidence that changes will be made.
"The conduct by IOC members and the bidding cities did not spring up yesterday and it will not go away simply because there are new rules written oa piece of paper," he said.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., warned Samaranch that Congress will monitor the IOC's enforcement of the newly enacted reforms and will take punitive action if necessary. He specifically cited legislation he has introduced that would bar American companies from financially supporting the games if the IOC does not change its practices.
Samaranch brought along some important allies, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Sen. Howard Baker, R-Tenn. Kissinger was a key member of the IOC 2000 panel that drafted the reforms, and Baker serves on the new ethics commission the IOC created in the wake of the Salt Lake City abuses.
The reforms include a ban on IOC member visits to bid cities, the addition of 15 active athletes to the IOC, and new rules on age limits and terms of office all designed to make the 105-year-old organization younger and more accountable.
"We did what we promised," said Samaranch, who had delayed his appearance before Congress until after the vote on the reform package.
Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and Billy Payne, who headed the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, acknowledged at hearings in October that Atlanta violated IOC gift rules in lobbying for the 1996 games.
But they denied that the gifts and favors showered on IOC members were designed to buy their votes or corrupt the process that led to Atlanta's selection.
Samaranch arrived in Washington on Tuesday and met with Barry McCaffrey, the White House drug policy adviser who has criticized both Samaranch and the IOC's project for a world anti-doping agency. McCaffrey has since endorsed the drug agency.
"Mr. Samaranch, prior to testifying in Congress, we wanted to stand with him and say if (the IOC) will execute the historic reforms, if they will stand with us on creating an independent drug testing agency, we will support their leadership," McCaffrey said after the 30-minute meeting.
McCaffrey and Samaranch released a 17-point agreement, although McCaffrey conceded it was nonbinding. There were no groundbreaking proposals and the agreement essentially reiterated ideas generated from the formation of the IOC's World Anti-Doping Agency last month and a meeting between McCaffrey and WADA head Dick Pound two weeks ago.
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