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Vote trading for the 2016 Summer Games?

November 6, 2008 | 12:00 pm

Let’s connect the dots and see where we get:

Els van Breda Vriesman of the Netherlands is a member of the International Olympic Committee commission that will evaluate the 2016 Summer Olympic candidates and write a report analyzing strengths and weaknesses of the four finalists.  That report will be issued a month before the IOC members -– Van Breda Vriesman among them -- choose the 2016 host. Its evaluations should influence the votes of some IOC members.

Van Breda Vriesman also is standing for reelection as president of the International Field Hockey Federation (FIH).

To promote her candidacy, she has a website. On the page of that website devoted to marketing and media, there is what amounts to an endorsement of her candidacy in a quote from Mercedes Coghen:  "The attractiveness of FIH events has made hockey a valuable international media partner."

The quote identifies Coghen as the vice president of the Royal Spanish Hockey Federation.  More significantly, she is the chief executive officer of the Madrid 2016 Olympic bid.

That makes this whole thing look like a quid pro quo: Coghen aids the Van Breda Vriesman candidacy before the Nov. 29 FIH election, and vice versa for the Oct. 2, 2009, bid-city election. (That is reinforced by the quote from Van Breda Vriesman on the contact page of the website:  "I hope I can count on your support."  Any reasonable person would conclude the other people quoted on her website are advocating for and supporting Van Breda Vriesman.)

And didn't other forms of vote trading lead to the IOC bid-city scandal?

In a Thursday e-mail, Van Breda Vriesman said Coghen has no vote in the FIH election and, "being Spanish, she will almost surely support the candidature of Mr. (Leandro) Negre, the Spanish candidate.  That she (Coghen) appears on the web site with a quote is because she frequently organized world hockey events in Spain.  Her quote reflects the respect we have for our sport and the leaders of our sport regardless of nationality.'' 

Madrid 2016 spokesman Jorge Hijar noted in an e-mail that the quote from Coghen dates to 2006 and that Coghen no longer holds an office in the Spanish field hockey federation. Hijar added that Coghen resigned her post in the international federation (Hijar said Coghen and Van Breda Vriesman once were members of the FIH athletes commission) after becoming Madrid 2016 chief.

But neither side addressed the issue of conflict of interest or the propriety of having Coghen's quote on Van Breda Vriesman's website.

Whether Coghen can vote is irrelevant. Publicizing the campaign with a quote from a person whose bid you will be evaluating crosses a line.

There is no specific provision covering this situation in the IOC rules of conduct for bid cities, which are to be enforced by the IOC ethics commission. Nor was there any such provision covering the remarks of a McDonald’s executive who suggested the suburban Chicago company’s continued IOC sponsorship could be contingent on which city is selected the host, implying that it would be a good idea to pick Chicago.

But that remark created the well-publicized possibility that one of Chicago’s rivals –- Rio, Tokyo and Madrid –- could file a complaint with the IOC ethics commission. That has not happened, yet the episode nevertheless was viewed as a misstep for Chicago. Although the link between Van Breda Vriesman’s campaign and Coghen’s campaign contains no overt suggestion that one is helping the other, the suggestion is clearly implicit.

Of course, such subtleties generally escape the IOC, where situational ethics is the rule of conduct most members follow.

The dots connect to this: The appearance of conflict of interest, possibly real conflict of interest -- and appearance can be just as bad as reality.

-- Philip Hersh