SALT LAKE CITY -- Reeling from allegations of bribery and facing mounting financial pressure from sponsors, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics took the extraordinary step yesterday of purging its top leadership.
Amid revelations that Salt Lake boosters had given members of the International Olympic Committee or their relatives expensive gifts, free health care, scholarships and cash payments, a senior IOC official also predicted yesterday that the scandal will soon prompt further housecleaning among the IOC's 115 members worldwide.
The resignations yesterday of G. Frank Joklik, president and CEO of the organizing committee, and Dave Johnson, the panel's No. 2 official, capped a week packed with revelations of just how far boosters had gone in a bid to win the Games: cash payments, one of them of more than $70,000.
An African IOC member, meantime, executed a profitable Utah land deal. And IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch accepted gifts from Utah boosters of at least three expensive firearms.
The rush of revelations weighed on corporate sponsors -- making them wary in the midst of what a key Olympic official called a "critical stage" in fund raising, with hundreds of millions of dollars yet to be raised.
The disclosures were making it "extremely difficult and perhaps not possible to raise the funds necessary for these Games," John Krimsky, the U.S. Olympic Committee's marketing expert, said yesterday.
Ultimately, it was agreed Thursday night, after three days of virtually nonstop meetings at Utah's governor's mansion involving state, city and U.S. Olympic officials, that nothing less than a symbolic cleansing would do -- even though four investigations into allegations of wrongdoing, one by the U.S. Department of Justice, have yet to present definitive evidence.
The IOC has stressed that Salt Lake will not be stripped of the Games. But, Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt said yesterday, "We cannot avoid the fact that we are injured by these events," by a "sinister and dark corner of corruption" that has tarnished the "shining light" of the Olympics.
"It must be made absolutely clear that the actions of a few do not reflect the values, moral expectations or standards of behavior of this community and state," he said. "We deplore it, and we revolt at being associated with them."
Later, Leavitt, a two-term Republican, called the disclosures "repulsive and unacceptable."
He said on KNRS Radio that an ethics panel of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee is looking into possible use of bid committee credit cards to pay for female escorts for IOC members.
The Olympics and the process by which the Games are awarded have frequently been marked over the years by rumors and hearsay complaints of unfair competition or unsavory dealings.
The allegations involving Salt Lake boosters, however, may turn out to be a turning point in the Olympic movement, one that generates real change in the way the cities bid for Games.
As Anita DeFrantz, president of the Amateur Athletic Foundation in Los Angeles and an IOC vice president, pointed out yesterday, this is the first time that officials have been provided with "specific information on which we can act."
In early December, a Salt Lake television station obtained a copy of a letter regarding a scholarship for the daughter of an IOC member.
Thereafter, it was disclosed that the Salt Lake City committee bidding for the 2002 Games had given about $400,000 in scholarship funds to 13 people, six of them relatives of IOC members, primarily from Africa.
It was also revealed that the bid committee -- a predecessor of the current organizing committee -- had provided free health care to three people with IOC affiliations through Salt Lake's Intermountain Health Care, the state's largest provider of medical services.
The bid committee also had handed out expensive gifts, including guns and skis.
The IOC launched an inquiry. So, too, did the U.S. Olympic Committee, the organizing committee's ethics panel and the Justice Department.
Pub Date: 1/09/99