For the week of January 27, 1999   thru February 2, 1999  

Olympic observations: follow the money

Commentary by DICK DORWORTH


Deep Throat it was who gave the world the timeless advice of how to track responsibility for prohibited conduct, unprincipled actions and breaches of the legal and moral code: "Follow the money," he said. "Follow the money."

Deep Throat was the name given to the still anonymous source who in the early 1970s helped two Washington Post reporters track responsibility for the burglary of the Democrat National Party Headquarters, in Washington’s Watergate Hotel, all the way to the president of the United States. The president wound up resigning as a result of what they found.

By following Deep Throat’s advice, the two reporters went on to fine careers in journalism. Deep Throat (whose pseudonym came from the title of the most discussed and popular porno film of the time) kept his anonymity before a grateful nation, but his time-honored, succinct words are a blueprint for tracking responsibility for many a scandal.

Follow the money.

It is no secret that there is, for instance, an easily observed correlation between a Congressman’s voting record and the business interests of the campaign contributors to that Congressman.

According to the legal code of the land, put and kept in place according to the flawed wisdom of the Congress itself, this is perfectly legal conduct. It is how business is done.

Whether this system encourages breaches in the moral code and the unprincipled act of vote buying (and selling) is a question for each citizen to figure out and decide for themself.

But if one wishes to anticipate how a Congressman is likely to vote on a certain issue, a good place to start the investigation is with Deep Throat’s words. After all, the price of a bought vote is minuscule compared to the financial stakes involved in, say, timber sales on public land, regulating acid rain, a defense contract or any number of subsidies.

That votes are bought and sold in the real world is, of course, reprehensible, but it is less surprising than the bargain basement prices they usually go for. The price of a vote is usually the best deal in town.

Follow the money tracks of responsibility between buyer and seller and the most mysterious and convoluted of stories will be made clear.

The recent revelation that members of the International Olympic Committee sold their votes to give the 2002 Winter Olympic Games to Salt Lake City has been greeted by the cynical with amusement and protestations of shock by the nave.

The most surprising aspect of the affair, considering the amounts of money to be made off the Olympics, is how cheaply the votes were sold. It stretches plausibility to the breaking point to believe that anyone—from the governor of Utah to the mayor of Salt Lake City to the presidents of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee to the so far unnamed Utah ‘boosters’ who supplied the money to buy the votes—having risen in this world to a high enough position to be a player in the Olympic site selection game, would possess such convenient unsophistication as to be ‘shocked’ at the mechanics of bringing an Olympics to town.

It is speculated that those who bid on behalf of other sites greeted the news with anger and a sense of betrayal at not having the wherewithal to bid higher.

In 1992, after outbidding Salt Lake City for the 1998 Games, the organizers of Nagano’s 1998 Winter Olympic Games burned all their records, reported to weigh several tons. Barring an unlikely attack of candor and honesty on the part of someone involved, it will be impossible to accurately follow the money Nagano paid to secure the Olympics. After losing out in 1992 to the superior bribery skills of the Japanese organizers, the ‘boosters’ of Salt Lake City obviously determined not to let that happen again.

At this writing, the details of Salt Lake City’s Olympic bribery are incomplete. If they are to be made clear, it will be done according to Deep Throat’s advice: follow the money.

While the Olympic spirit is about the purity of athletic endeavor, the selling of that spirit and the staging of the Olympic Games is about the base realities of big business. The attorney general of Utah is going to investigate the scandal, separate from the investigations by the IOC, the USOC and the SLOC. It is hoped that the attorney general of Utah will remember Deep Throat, for the people who put up the money to buy Olympic votes did not do it because they were infused with the purity of athletic endeavor.

It is not too much to speculate that the money came from those who stand to financially benefit the most from staging the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. The people who are resigning their positions with the Salt Lake Olympic Committee are only the middlemen, whose job was to pass the money along, while, perhaps, taking a cut for themselves. By following the money, if the track hasn’t been yet incinerated, it will become clear.

There is this: it is indisputable that if the Salt Lake City organizers had played by the rules the Games would not have been awarded to Salt Lake City. Pointing out this sordid reality is not to justify or excuse corruption, but, rather, to underscore the fact that the Olympic Games have drifted so far from original intention as to be almost unrecognizable.

One could make an interesting argument that the behavior of Congressmen and IOC members are not that different.

Just as campaign financing reform would benefit the citizens U.S. congressmen are charged with representing, Olympic reform would bolster the spirit of the Olympic Games.

I recommend selecting a permanent site each for summer and winter Olympics, places where the Olympic Games would be held every four years, sites that have already hosted the Games and have all the facilities in place.

Innsbruck and Calgary come to mind for the winter Games. The money has largely already been spent, and would, therefore, be less susceptible to corruption and much easier to track.

 

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