(ATR) Feb. 8 marked the 15th anniversary of the Salt Lake City Games, whose ethics scandal is remembered as the start of change for the International Olympic Committee.
Howard Berkes (L) and Mark Hodler in 2002 (ATR)
“Every bid since then has been affected by what occurred in Salt Lake City,” NPR Reporter Howard Berkes tells Around the Rings
“This was the biggest ethics scandal in the history of the Olympics."
Details of the Salt Lake Olympic scandal first broke when local TV station reporter Chris Vanocur of KTVX received one of the first reports of illicit behavior of IOC members in Nov. 1998. The information was a leaked copy of a letter to a relative of an IOC member from the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee (SLOC) stating their refusal to continue paying the relative's personal bills.
Once Vanocur broke the news, the spokesman for the organizing committee released a statement acknowledging they had been paying for college tuition and/or living expenses for relatives of 13 IOC members. Surprisingly, the news did not bring national attention but was a big deal locally.
Berkes further investigated the clear violations of ethics rules of the IOC by speaking with Mark Hodler, who had written the IOC ethics rules and was the second most senior member of the IOC next to the then IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch. Hodler told Berkes the actions violated the rules and Berkes says that and his reporting “kicked off a firestorm of international media coverage."
The IOC executive board meeting held after the report's release where Hodler made even more alarming remarks set the tone for the scandal.
"From there it was no looking back for the IOC," says Berkes.
The information brought to light by Vanocur and Berkes resulted in the loss of millions of dollars in sponsorships for the Games including John Hancock insurance, which was one of the TOP sponsors and openly critical of the news. It wasn't until 2000 that the SLOC gained another sponsor.
Mitt Romney was later brought on by the SLOC as a savior to restore confidence in the city and in the Games.
"There was this crisis of confidence and Mitt Romney’s coming in and establishing fiscal discipline to the organizing committee and having that appearance of confidence helped restore confidence in the Games, among corporate sponsors and among all the players" says Berkes.
“You needed someone at the top who people could believe in, had integrity and would get the games on track financially and would make sure they would happen and Romney provided that function.”
Now 15 years later the impact the Games and scandal have made is still prevalent today.
The International Olympic Committee reacted to the event and is a completely different organization since 2002. The IOC has since made "significant reforms in bidding rules to prevent this kind of influence pedaling that led to the elicit payments and gifts associated with Salt Lake city," says Berkes.
Romney speaks at the Stars on Ice tribute to Salt Lake City held at Energy Solutions Arena (ATR)
"I very much enjoyed the Games being in my home city even though my reporting brought shame and dismay to the community" Berkes jokes.
The citizens of Salt Lake also felt the impact of the scandal but reacted in a positive manner.
“There was just really an atmosphere of openness and welcome and that helped overcome the stain of the scandal,” Berkes recalls as he describes the environment of the Games.
“I could go out right now and still see people wearing their Salt Lake volunteer jackets. It’s a great source of pride locally.”
Salt Lake has even shown interest in hosting yet another Games and Berkes finds it natural the city would want to re-create that experience.
“People want to recapture what for many was a life changing moment, something that they will always cherish as a fond memory,” he says.
Written by Courtney Colquitt
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