Perhaps we should blame Peter Ueberroth. By treating the 1984 LosAngeles Olympics more as one might treat a business venture than asocial cause, he demonstrated that hosting an Olympics didn't have tomean a huge drain on city or state treasuries or the building of stadiaand venues doomed to be expensive white elephants. By showing that anOlympic Games could not only pay for itself but bring economic benefitsas well as the less reliably negotiable currency of prestige and beingviewed as "world class,'' he may have set in motion the train of eventsthat has led to the scandals of Salt Lake City.
The panel chaired by George Mitchell has proposed to tighten up theregulations that failed to deter a "culture of improper gift-giving,''and wants to make the International Olympic Committee a "publicinternational organization,'' so bribing its officials could bepunishable under the U.S.' Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
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Does anyone think that would really work for long?
The International Olympic Committee has pressured certain members,mostly from Third World countries (which might explain thesusceptibility to bribes unless it has to do with Eurocentricwagon-circling in the upper reaches of the committee). Unless theOlympic movement is converted into a chronically money-losing operationthat always costs host cities money -- a possibility if it becomes a"public international organization'' but perhaps not likely so long asthe athletic competition and spectacle value is of a high enough caliberto continue to attract large sums from television networks eager to haveexclusive rights -- the Olympics will continue to generate both moneyand less tangible economic benefits.
Cities (and the prominent businesspeople who live in them) desirousof sharing the Olympic spotlight will find ways to lure it to theirhometowns. They will use money, overtly and covertly, to do so. Anyshiny-new reformed international committee will develop licit ways tochannel money into its coffers in return for the prestige and economicbenefits attendant on hosting the Olympics. And eventually, perhaps in10 years, perhaps in 20 -- or perhaps sooner -- back channels forbaksheesh will develop as well. Sooner or later another scandal willhit.
It would be smarter to convert the Olympic movement into an overtlycommercial venture, perhaps by selling stock in some IOC-createdcorporation. That would at least promote the virtue of honesty. Itshould also make the various financial transactions that go intodeciding where Olympics will be held and preparing for them to besuccessful more straightforward, more open and therefore less remarkablethan the under-the-table transactions exposed in the Salt Lake City bid-- which apparently have been commonplace if somewhat less blatant inthe Olympics for longer than most of us would prefer to believe.
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The National Football League, while it trades on the perception thata professional sports team is a way to increase community pride andtogetherness to get cities to dun taxpayers to build stadia, doesn'tpretend to be a humanitarian venture holding the key to world peace andunderstanding. It is a commercial venture that grants franchises toowners who pay serious money for them.
At this point (things could change and probably will) the NFL islucrative enough that there's little incentive for potential franchiseesto achieve its blessings with under-the-table money; there's plenty ofmoney on the table in plain sight. When one city ups the bidding,there's no shame and no pretense, no secrecy if a would-be ownershipgroup in another city matches or increases the bid. The sums involvedmay seem ludicrous to some of us -- making the common plaint that dealsjust won't work without subsidies from beleaguered taxpayers all themore ludicrous -- but the process is reasonably straightforward.
Despite having allowed an increasing number of openly professionalathletes to participate in the Olympics (undermining in a mostly healthyway the old aristocratic superstition that athletic activity undertakenby anyone but gentlemanly amateurs is somehow dirty) the Olympicmovement still clings to the pieces of the notion that it is aninternational brotherhood movement unsullied by crass commercialconsiderations. Since it requires and generates money, this stance makesit more likely that money will pass from one to another in secret waysdefined by unrealistic rules as corrupt, rather than as straightforwardcommercial transactions.
It would be healthier to drop the non-profit pretenses and make theOlympics a commercial operation.