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First Step in Olympics Reform

March 18, 1999

"We must clean our house," Juan Antonio Samaranch told fellow members of the International Olympic Committee Wednesday. Finally, the longtime IOC president seems to have recognized the severity of the crisis that the Olympic movement faces because of the scandal shrouding the choice of Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Games.

The 90 members on hand at Lausanne, Switzerland, began the housecleaning by expelling six of their own for taking "gifts" from Salt Lake City. While this was an unprecedented action in the modern Olympic movement, it is a minimal first step. Evidence of corruption by other IOC members must be pursued. But the real work begins today as the IOC establishes a new system for selection of Olympic sites, creates an ethics commission and launches basic changes in Olympic governance.

We have suggested in the past that Samaranch should resign now. Not surprisingly, however, the committee voted 86 to 2 to keep the Spanish aristocrat in office through his present term, which ends in 2001. Samaranch promised that reform will be his highest priority during his final years in office.

We have to take Samaranch at his word for now. But he must push reform relentlessly between now and the fall, when the IOC meets again. He clearly enjoys the confidence of the members, most of whom serve at his behest. If anyone can convince the IOC that the future of the Olympic movement depends on dramatic reform, perhaps it is Samaranch. And only Samaranch himself can determine the sort of legacy he will leave. He can be remembered as the haughty patrician who allowed scandal and corruption to infect, and potentially destroy, the Olympic movement. Or he can stand in Olympic history as the leader who finally grasped the extent of the damage and responded with the real reform that was needed to restore the Olympics to worldwide credibility.

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