Who’s grabbing the Olympic gold?

August 8, 2008

Bob Quellos exposes the shady dealings, unsavory characters and immense greed at the heart of the International Olympic Committee.

THIS PAST week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) sat down in Beijing to discuss business before the start of the Summer Olympic Games. During the meeting, IOC President Jacques Rogge let it be known that committee expects to generate $1 billion for itself over the next four-year cycle.

He also revealed that the committee has reserves of $353 million, while generating a total of $866 million in revenue from 2005 to 2008 from sponsorships alone. When it's all over, it will have cost the Chinese government $42 billion to construct the infrastructure for the Games, according to estimates. It has spent $16 billion just to improve the air quality for the Games, the Los Angeles Times reports.

When it comes to outlandish budgets spent by host cities, China is hardly an exception. Athens spent $12.8 billion on the 2004 summer Games while London's budget for the 2012 Games is estimated at $17.6 billion--nearly four times the original projection.

And it is the host city's burden to provide the infrastructure for the Games--as the IOC will never open a checkbook to help pay for expenses. In all likelihood, the IOC will never put any money back into the host city, as it makes clear in its contract that they will not be taxed for any aspect of the Games.

IOC President Jacques Rogge and Coca Cola CEO Neville Isdell hold the Olympic flag at the Great Wall of China in Beijing.
IOC President Jacques Rogge and Coca Cola CEO Neville Isdell hold the Olympic flag at the Great Wall of China in Beijing. (Shi chunyang | Imaginechina/Icon SMI)

The IOC is also tax-free in Switzerland where its headquarters are located. While the IOC sits on top of millions of dollars, it will never pay a dime in taxes thanks to a deal with the Swiss government. As a result of a lack of accountability to any government or agency, nobody outside of the IOC knows where the money actually goes--although an unknown portion is shared with the various National Olympic Committees (NOCs), which also tend not to pay taxes.

Yet with all of the wealth flowing into the coffers of the IOC and developers, the athletes who spend their lives training for the Olympics will never get a cut of the money generated by the Games. It seems that the IOC is running the best racket around--more "Olympic Industry" than "Olympic Movement."

Consisting of 116 members from 79 countries, the IOC likes to promote the notion of an "Olympic Family." The "Family" includes IOC members, their staff and guests, presidents and secretaries-general of 198 NOCs, international federations, major corporate sponsors, current bid committees and some members of the media.

HOST CITIES beware--when this family comes to town, it will eat all the food, overstay its welcome and bully you around. As the Sydney Morning Herald's Roy Masters notably stated, "Only one other global organization uses the word 'family' as frequently and obsequiously as the International Olympic Committee, and that's the Mafia."

Helen Lenskyj notes in her book Inside the Olympic Industry, when the budget for the 2000 Sydney Olympics was made public, approximately $47 million was set aside to provide 4,000 members of the Olympic family with 1,800 limousines. After public outcry, the Sydney organizing committee proposed that the IOC take buses from their hotels. The IOC eventually settled on cars provided by a local Mercedes Benz dealer.

Dennis Loeb, who helped organize transportation for the Atlanta Summer Games, told the Los Angeles Times:

Every time [the IOC] had a meeting, their security was provided by the Atlanta Police Department. [Then-IOC President Antonio] Samaranch always had a Georgia state policeman driving him every time he came into town. Every IOC member, every one of them, had their own driver, their own car.

I was in charge of aviation. I had 22 helicopters and three of them--multimillion-dollar helicopters--were budgeted for "executive transportation," as well as two Cessna Citations to provide transportation for IOC members back and forth across the United States. I can't tell you how many millions of dollars that cost.

During the Salt Lake City Olympics, the budget for the breakfast of the "Olympic Family" was $750,000. However, the corruption surrounding the Salt Lake City games proved to be too much. In the winter of 1998, a scandal erupted that engulfed the IOC and the Salt Lake City Olympic Bid Committee (SLOBC).

In short, the SLOBC gave large gifts to members of the IOC in exchange for votes during the host city selection process. In the end, 10 members of the IOC were expelled and 10 more were sanctioned. To this day, IOC members are not allowed to travel to bid cities as a result of the Salt Lake City scandal.

How intense was the corruption in Salt Lake City? One secret memo discovered in the Salt Lake archives details one IOC member's demand to be taken to a doctor. "And as we know, if an IOC member wanted anything in Salt Lake City--they got it," wrote journalist Andrew Jennings. “He asked for--and received--a prescription for $1,000 worth of Viagra tablets."

PERHAPS THIS level of corruption is to be expected of a group comprised of wealthy business executives, politicians and aristocrats like Princess Anne of Britain, Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg, Prince Albert of Monaco and Princess Nora of Lichtenstein.

Originally formed by Baron Pierre de Coubertin in 1894, the IOC has been a haven for royalty and rich industrialists. Chris Shaw, the lead spokesperson for Games Watch 2010, writes in his recently released book Five Ring Circus, "Of nine actual or acting presidents, the IOC had put three barons, two counts, two businessmen, an overt fascist and a fascist sympathizer in its top position."

The fascist sympathizer was a building developer from Chicago named Avery Brundage who was elected as IOC president in 1952 and maintained the post for 20 years. Brundage quickly rose in the IOC ranks as he demonstrated unmatched support for Adolf Hitler during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

Sportswriter Dave Zirin points out, "Unlike other prominent Nazi sympathizers...Brundage never apologized for his Hitler leanings. As late as 1941, he was praising the Reich at a Madison Square Garden America First rally."

Brundage may have been a fascist sympathizer, but Antonio Samaranch the real thing. Samaranch, who preferred to be called "Your Excellency," took over as IOC president in 1980. The son of a rich Barcelona textile manufacturing family, Samaranch joined Franco's fascist youth and went on to rise through the party ranks.

As Vyv Simson and Andrew Jennings documented in their book The Lords of the Rings, "Samaranch joined the fascist movement in his teens. He stayed loyal until it was disbanded on the eve of Spain's first democratic elections some forty years later. Samaranch never voluntarily tore up his party card. He remained loyal until fascism died under him."

From Brundage's defense of Hitler and the 1936 Olympics to the IOC's decision to continue with the 1968 Mexico City Games after the Mexican government slaughtered student protesters to the scandal surrounding Salt Lake City--the history of the IOC is one of politics, power and greed.

Today, the IOC is still plagued by shady behind-the-scenes deals and scandals. Most recently, it was revealed that some IOC members cut deals with Chinese officials that will allow the government to ban Web sites even though journalists were previously promised full access to the Web.

Speaking bluntly, Chris Shaw related the realities and the tasks ahead for all those organizing to stop this Olympic circus from coming to their town. "The organizing committees in each bid and host city have taken Olympic 'ideals' and the Games themselves as the golden path to corporate welfare heaven," states Shaw.

"They have no interest in reforming themselves either, or of accepting even the most cursory regulation of their activities. There is only one future: The IOC has to be brought to an end."

Further Reading

From the archives