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A decade later, Hodler's words still chasten IOC

December 11, 2008 | 12:30 pm

Marc Hodler LAUSANNE, Switzerland -– Friday is the 10th anniversary of what may have been the most significant Olympic event of the 20th Century.

My colleague Stephen Wilson of the Associated Press put it into context with stunning foresight in the second paragraph of his story from Dec. 12, 1998:

"One of the IOC's own senior leaders came forward with startling bribery allegations that shook the agency to the core and could have widespread repercussions on the entire Olympics movement," Wilson wrote, adding a paragraph later that it had set off "the biggest ethics scandal in the history of the 104-year-old organization."

Everyone long suspected that ethics had been a strange concept to many International Olympic Committee members.

That the truth finally had emerged was startling -– but no more so than the source of the revelations: Marc Hodler of Switzerland.

As I would write in my obituary for Hodler, who died eight years later at 87:

Marc Hodler seemed an unlikely candidate to rock the world of the smug, secretive, self-appointed old boys' club the International Olympic Committee had been for a century.

Mr. Hodler was a courtly Swiss lawyer, a passionate bridge player and an octogenarian then in his fourth decade as a member of the IOC club.

Yet Mr. Hodler's stunning assertions nearly eight years ago about the unsavory relationships between IOC members and cities bidding to host the Olympics ignited a scandal that threatened the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and created a crisis that forced a shaken IOC into sweeping institutional, operational and management reforms.

Standing in the lobby of IOC headquarters, barely 10 feet from where I am writing this today, Hodler responded to questions about what then seemed minor ethics violations limited to Salt Lake City with 45 minutes of answers so shocking that journalists on the scene would be thankful for the audio recordings verifying Hodler had said what they heard.

This how I described the allegations in the Oct. 19, 2006 obituary:

Mr. Hodler said 5 percent to 7 percent of IOC members had solicited bribes for their votes, alleged one IOC member had been an agent for such bribes, and claimed there had been corruption in the successful bid campaigns of Summer Olympics cities Atlanta (1996) and Sydney (2000) and of Winter host Nagano, Japan, (1998) as well as Salt Lake City.

Evidence surfaced to support nearly all Mr. Hodler's claims, even if the censures of those involved were limited to facts from the investigation into Salt Lake's dealings with the IOC.

I was not in Lausanne that day, but, like every reporter who focuses on the Olympics, the story would consume my energy for the next year, as it seemed that each day some media outlet uncovered new dirt related to Hodler’s allegations.

My contribution to this frenzy was a story detailing how IOC vice president Kim Un Yong of South Korea used Salt Lake City officials to further his daughter’s piano career. The Salt Lake bid paid for studies at the University of Utah for the woman whose father ran Russia’s major record company. It issued a recording featuring Kim’s daughter, whom one music critic called, "competent and professional, but no different from hundreds of young pianists."

The fallout of Hodler’s declamations?

Ten IOC members would be expelled or forced to resign. The top two officials of Salt Lake's Olympic Organizing Committee resigned. Congress held 1999 hearings on Olympics bid abuses, at which then-IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch faced a grilling, with one Congressman calling for him to resign.

The Justice Department opened a criminal investigation. The U.S. Olympic Committee was found negligent in its oversight of Salt Lake City's activities. The IOC reformed itself –- or its organizational structure, at least.

Hodler's statements so angered many longtime IOC members, including Samaranch, that less than a year later they took revenge in the vote that allowed Turin, Italy, to defeat favored Sion, Switzerland, as host city of the 2006 Winter Olympics.

In 2004, a South Korean court found Kim guilty of corruption charges unrelated to the Olympics.

Samaranch, 88, spent 21 years as IOC president before being forced to step down in 2001 by age limit rules that were part of the reforms. He was in Lausanne for this week’s executive board meeting, a privilege accruing to him from his position as honorary president in perpetuity.

His influence within the IOC remains great, partly because he appointed two-thirds of the current 110 members. Samaranch’s last chance to make significant use of that power will be in the election for the 2016 Summer Games host. Many people feel he can swing the vote for Madrid.

Presumably that will be done with arm-twisting, not palm-greasing.

If it weren’t for the stand Marc Holder took a decade ago, everyone would still assume it was the other way around.

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Marc Hodler. Credit: Douglas C. Pizac / AP