The International Olympic Committee is meeting in Peru at what should be a moment of triumph, the awarding of the 2024 and 2028 Summer Olympic Games to Paris and Los Angeles.
Instead, the news cycle is dominated by headlines trumpeting seemingly more of the same: corruption in the Olympic scene.
Is it really so difficult to understand why taxpayers are so fed up?
In the aftermath of police raids last week in Brazil, it’s as if the rest of the media pack just woke up. Hello? This space has been suggesting for months that this has been coming, and that in comparison the Salt Lake matter of some 20 years ago will seem relatively small-scale.
The details will be complicated. The widespread perception, as the facts bear it out or not, will nonetheless be simple: Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 were bought.
The long-range outcome, incidentally, will be just as elemental: in 2028, Los Angeles will prove the salvation and renewal, just as in 1932 and 1984, of the Olympic movement.
Olympic karma makes for incredibly fascinating past, present and future.
Understanding that this next part tends to the dramatic, and apologies, but this needs to be direct: the 2016 and 2020 allegations will strike at the core of the IOC’s credibility.
As should equally obvious, all this is going to get a lot worse before things can get better. Why? The full measure of what law enforcement authorities in France, Brazil, the United States and elsewhere know have yet to be revealed.
Our friends in Japan can — will — say, just as in 1998 and Nagano, that, oh, we can’t find our files. This time it’s different. Electronic wire-transfer records don’t go away.
Next, the IOC would do itself a big favor if it would simply acknowledge that, indeed, it has a collective responsibility instead of, as it did in an executive board statement issued Monday from Lima, trying to pin the blame on the former IAAF president Lamine Diack.
Is he a central actor? Yes. Is he entirely or even largely to blame? No. Why? Because the culture in which he operated — that is, in which he was given free rein to operate — was facilitated if not promoted.
This is what needs to change. The IOC needs to move to a sport-business model in which it actually does more than pay lip-service to transparency, governance and best practices. For the umpteenth time, this is as much a culture and communication matter as anything else.
How else to explain, again, the obvious? In 2009, Rio de Janeiro was pushed through the IOC’s “technical” bid process even though it clearly was lacking; the signal could not have been more clear about, months later, what the 2016 election outcome would be even though the IOC itself talks a big game about “fair play.”
Moreover, in the run-up to the 2013 assembly and elections in Buenos Aires, it’s not a secret that Diack could be heard in the Hilton hotel lobby with assurances that Tokyo was going to win for 2020, wrestling would get back on the program and Thomas Bach would be elected IOC president.
What description would a hard-nosed prosecutor or law enforcement official be tempted to offer about that?
It's 20 years, more or less, after Salt Lake. The mystery here is two-fold.
One, why has the IOC waited to allow this next huge crisis to come and bite it in the backside? Two, and again from the IOC-is-reactive-not-proactive-file: why does it allow this and other situations to become all one big optics mess for the ease and convenience of pack journalism?
To borrow from Dean Wormer in the 1978 movie classic, Animal House -- fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life. "Crisis communication" is no way to go through life, either, but for 20 years that is the IOC way. Why?
The factual underpinning that has seen the IOC lurch into the latest crisis:
The timing of the police raid last week in Brazil was cleverly deliberate, just a few days in advance of the IOC assembly in Lima.
The authorities raided the home of the former Brazil IOC member and 2016 organizing committee head Carlos Nuzman’s place. There they found $150,000 in cash, divided into different currencies, because who doesn’t have that much cash just lying around, say what? Also various passports, including, reportedly, a Russian passport. Comrade! A toast to your citizenship with, what, a vodka shot or a caipirinha?!
The police detained Nuzman.
French and Brazilian authorities say Nuzman was a central figure in channeling $2 million from a Brazilian businessman to Diack through a Caribbean account held by his son, Papa Massata Diack, better known in Olympic space as PMD.
Everyone in Olympic space knew Lamine Diack — president of the IAAF from 1999 to 2015 — was a force in IOC African politics. Frankie Fredericks, a four-time Olympic medalist and IOC member from Namibia, has said a $300,000 payment he received from PMD on the day Rio won the 2016 vote was for legitimate consultancy work. The IOC insists Fredericks is entitled to the presumption of innocence.
The IOC’s response to all this was: waiting to be “fully informed” before it acts on Nuzman.
A side but important note: there is very little love lost in key Olympic circles for Nuzman. When Bach left Brazil after the Games — he, like, left. Bye, bye. Did he come back for the Paralympics? Uh, no. Bye, bye.
Remember that during the 2016 Olympics, a member of the IOC executive board, Ireland’s Pat Hickey, was arrested in his underwear and hauled off to prison in front of TV cameras over an alleged scheme to sell Rio Games tickets illegally.
The IOC likes to talk about the notion of an Olympic “family.” Where was Nuzman when Hickey was languishing behind bars before being formally charged by a Brazilian judge?
Hickey, finally freed after the Assn. of National Olympic Committees contributed money toward his bail, resigned his seat on the IOC executive committee this week.
Let’s be clear. There is a huge difference between making mistakes and criminal wrongdoing — of which Hickey was cleared in August by a judge-led inquiry.
Hickey, health willing, has eight years left to serve on the IOC. Odds are he will be rehabilitated and serve effectively as an IOC backbencher. His EB resignation, in Olympic terms, can be seen as an honorable thing: he was on the board to represent the 200-plus national Olympic committees and didn’t want his issues to preclude their interests from having an effective voice at the top table.
HIs situation is wholly different in nature and scope from Nuzman’s, or Diack’s. His, by comparison, is miniscule.
Yet the IOC says nothing one way or the other.
Same, in a sense, with Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of Kuwait, one of the IOC’s behind-the-scenes powers. He won’t be in Lima this week amid intense speculation that the world’s law enforcement authorities are taking attendance at the IOC assembly — particularly as the FIFA investigation rolls on in the United States. The sheikh is legitimately overseeing an Asian Games function in the central Asian republic of Turkmenistan. Moreover, he has been preoccupied for several months with the illness of a close relative.
Does the IOC say anything about any of this?
No. Instead, as ever, it opts to be reactive, just as when it says it’s waiting to be “fully informed.”
This is nonsense, and on multiple levels.
That Monday statement — fancifully termed “declaration of the IOC executive board in Lima” — refers not to alleged criminal behavior but “infringements.” Infringements?!
While in the past the IOC has noted the presumption of innocence in regard to Fredericks, here the statement says, “With regard to the investigation around the former IAAF President, Mr. Lamine Diack, and his son, Mr. Papa Massata Diack, the French prosecutor has stated that there are indications that payments have been made in return for votes ‘over the designation of host cities for the biggest global sporting events.’ In this context, as far as votes for host cities of Olympic Games in the past are concerned, the IOC took immediate action.”
And here is where the IOC is caught between a rock and a hard place, because this is the very next sentence: “The IOC joined the inquiry as a ‘partie civile’ more than one year ago.”
Right. It sure did.
So let’s play two plus two is four.
Right here, unequivocally the IOC has a collective responsibility. It knew more than a year ago what was what. It joined the matter. If it didn’t know the precise details, it knew — it knew! — the essential outlines. Again the obvious questions: Who at the IOC knew? What was communicated? In what fashion? To whom? When? Where is the email or document trail?
In that very same “declaration,” the IOC says it is “fully committed to protecting the integrity of sport,” adding “credibility is one of the three pillars of Olympic Agenda 2020,” Bach’s would-be 2014 reform plan, which purports to introduce a “new good governance system of the IOC.”
Now would be the opportune time to not just talk the talk but walk the walk.
As ‘partie civile,’ IOC, tell the world what you have learned. Reasonable transparency is good governance. Now is the time to come clean. It’s really the only way forward.