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A Come-From-Behind Plan to Land the Olympics


It was an arcane system unprepared for the era of big business—and thus ripe for corruption. The campaign for the 1992 Games, which commenced shortly after the L.A. triumph, marked a watershed. “We started seeing lavish gifts, like sets of Louis Vuitton luggage,” recalls Lausanne attorney François Carrard, the IOC director general from 1989 to 2003. “We expected people to behave, but cities always looked for loopholes. After we decided all gifts had to be cleared with the IOC beforehand, one city received permission to send out promotional videos. Along with the video they also sent each member a giant TV set and VCR, arguing that some members might not have the proper viewing equipment.”

Once it got started, the corruption was hard to stop. Nobody wanted to be the whistle-blower. Cities that lost feared being punished for squealing if they bid again. After coming up empty on two Winter Games bids, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee deployed tactics such as offering IOC members trips to Vail, scholarships for their children, and plastic-surgery operations. At trial in Salt Lake’s federal court, the SLOC’s leaders, Tom Welch and David Johnson, argued that they merely played the game the way everybody else did. Eventually both men walked free owing to lack of evidence.

The IOC was chastened, though. Salt Lake cut to the core of the Olympic brand, ultimately the IOC’s sole asset. Major sponsor John Hancock Financial Services struck the Olympic logo from its stationery. Former U.S. senator George Mitchell and Henry Kissinger flew in to advise Samaranch. In the end, ten IOC members, nearly all from developing countries, were expelled or forced to resign, and Samaranch announced a raft of 50 reforms.

In large part, those reforms were aimed at rationalizing the IOC membership, making it more accountable. A retirement age of 70 was established. The new body would have a maximum of 115 people, all elected: 70 at-large members, proposed by current IOC members and then approved by the full body; fifteen active or recently retired athletes, elected from the IOC Athletes’ Commission (these currently include former U.S. volleyball star Robert Ctvrtlik of San Diego); fifteen heads of international sports federations; and fifteen heads of national Olympic committees.

This new arrangement is supposed to make the IOC more representative of “the Olympic Movement” while not allowing any one constituency—a region or a sport—to wield undue influence. Yet grandfather clauses blunted the bite of the reforms; more than two-thirds of the current members can stay until they turn 80 and don’t have to submit to a reelection vote until 2007. And aside from England’s Princess Anne, Spain’s l’Infante Doña Pilar de Borbón, and Princesse Nora of Liechtenstein, there are only eight other women in the IOC.

If anything, the reforms have made the selection process more complicated than ever. “Before the reforms, a lot of the tactics involved knowing which members controlled areas like Africa or the Middle East,” Christillin explains. “Today, with all the new types of members, the alliances are different, and not nearly as big.”

Of course, that affects all bid cities equally. But the fact that the IOC is now slightly less Eurocentric and beholden to history might even the playing field for an Olympic newcomer like New York. On any given day, NYC 2012 is likely to have an emissary abroad, attending an IOC-related event and expressing his extreme interest in synchronized swimming or team handball. Because of the new rules, bid cities can approach IOC members only at sanctioned IOC functions. Mayor Bloomberg gets involved on big occasions, such as the December presentation by the five finalists at an Olympic meeting in Dubrovnik, Croatia. “People were impressed that he came all the way from New York and sat through all the presentations,” Christillin says. “A lot of the IOC politics involves flair and charisma, showing you have the power to host a great Games without coming off too pushy.”

Private consultants are also important players. Among the 30-odd consultants on NYC 2012’s dime is a Lausanne-based boutique outfit called TSE Consulting. “We’re Dan’s eyes and ears in Europe, and we’re close to the sports federations,” explains Greg Curchod, whose office shares a suite with the consulate of Bolivia in a nondescript building near the train station. “We provide Dan with the right message for approaching each international federation. In the end, details matter more to many members than some vague words about the Olympic dream.”

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