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LOS ANGELES TIMES INTERVIEW

Anita DeFrantz

Not Your Father's Olympics: Money, Diversity Change the Face of the IOC

September 03, 2000|Paul L. Montgomery | Paul L. Montgomery, a freelance journalist, has worked as a reporter for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal

LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND — In less than two weeks, the sky over Sydney, Australia, will fill with skyrockets, a thousand television cameras will light up and the Games of the XXVII Olympiad will get under way. These Games, however, are different from all the others. For the last 21 months, the movement's controlling body, the 113-member International Olympic Committee, has been rocked by wave after wave of scandal. Various federal and local investigations show that the organizers who brought the lucrative 2002 Winter Games to Salt Lake City spent at least $1.2 million in various under-the-table payments to win the favor of selected IOC members, most of them from Third World countries. Since the first scandal broke in Utah in December 1998, the IOC has scrambled to reform itself, setting up a welter of commissions and other bodies to look after ethics and such nettlesome issues as sports doping. The scramble has transformed what was basically a private old boys' club into a modern business claiming transparency and accountability.

One of the people at the core of all the change is Anita L. DeFrantz, a 47-year-old lawyer and former Olympic rower who heads the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles. DeFrantz, the first woman in the 106-year history of the IOC to be a vice president, is the most powerful American in the Olympic movement. She is also the first African American to represent the United States in the IOC.

While attending Connecticut College and law school at the University of Pennsylvania, DeFrantz was a serious rower and captain of the eight-oared United States shell that won a bronze medal at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. After rigorously training for the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, she protested the U.S. decision to boycott the Games because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The protest led to her career as an Olympic administrator, giving testimony before Congress, joining the organizing committee for the 1984 Games in Los Angeles and winning election to the IOC in 1986.

DeFrantz did not emerge unscathed from the recent scandals, although both federal authorities and the IOC have since absolved her of wrongdoing. Much of the controversy was about a gold-and-garnet necklace she was given in Japan in 1990. Newspaper articles claimed the value of the necklace surpassed the $200 limit then in force for gifts to IOC members. DeFrantz retorted that the necklace was a gift from the wife of a friend, not a bribe, and the giver of the gift said it had actually cost less than $100 to make.

DeFrantz is single and travels part of nearly every month on Olympic business, often to Lausanne, the IOC headquarters, where this conversation took place. Like all elected IOC members, she is an unsalaried volunteer. When traveling on IOC business, her expenses are paid, and she receives a generous per-diem allowance. DeFrantz's name usually figures in speculation about who will succeed IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, who has led the body since 1980 and whose term expires on July 16, 2001.

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Question: Is the International Olympic Committee a parliament, an executive committee, a court or a business protecting its monopoly?

Answer: The IOC is the board of directors of the world foundation for sports. . . . It is the only [foundation] that has as its mission to promote sports throughout the world and to promote all sports throughout the world. Of course, there are specific interest groups [like] FIFA [International Federation of Football Assns.], which is only interested in . . . soccer. . . . But the IOC is interested in all sports.

Q: When you were elected to the IOC, most members were much older than you, and there hadn't been many women . . .

A: I was the fifth woman elected.

Q: What was it like?

A: I didn't believe I had been elected. I thought I was being called to meet the president, to be told I was not elected. . . . I was called into a poorly lit and cavernous room, and an elegant gentleman said "Please follow me," and I walked to the front of the room. Someone before me went up to a podium and was told to hold the Olympic flag, and he said something in French. I was told to read a card and hold the flag and hold my hand up--and it was the Olympic oath. . . . [IOC President] Juan Antonio Samaranch put the IOC member's medal around my neck, and there was applause. . . .

Q: When you were on the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Games, you had to deal often with the IOC. Was it different then than now, when you're on the inside?

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