Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Olympics and corruption

First, I must state that I love the Olympic Games.  The Games didn't directly lead to my athletic training; I didn't look that far ahead, but they were always there, in the background, and the Olympians of my childhood were as massive and brilliant and awe-inspiring as the originals, the Greek Gods.

In 1988, I qualified for the Olympic Trials in Canada.  At the Trials, the top one hundred men and one hundred women competed to see who would represent Canada at the Olympics in Seoul.  I was probably ranked 100, or maybe more swimmers attended; maybe there was a 20- or 50- way tie for one hundredth and I was in that group at the end.

I did not attend the Trials but I followed them in the news and cheered for our swimmers and other athletes.  Even Ben Johnson losing his medals for steroid use and the shame we Canadians felt didn't tarnish the Games for me.

I continue to love the Games and the athletes but the organizers, the OIC, have earned my disgust.

It started with a book, The New Lords of the Rings, a somewhat tabloid style expose of the lives and decisions of the members of the IOC.

From Amazon:
The world of modern Olympic sport is a secretive, elite domain where decisions are taken behind closed doors, where money is spent on creating a fabulous life-style for a tiny circle of officials and funds destined for sport are siphoned away to offshore bank accounts. This investigation of the hidden corruption behind the Olympic ideal reveals: how Princess Anne's attempt to unseat the unpopular athletics supremo Primo Nibiolo was sabotaged by secret deals from within, how bribes were paid to win gold medals for Korean boxers in the Seoul Olympics, that Berlin's bid for the 2000 Olympics was so corrupt that the State parliament set up an enquiry, that millions of dollars are spent by bidding cities to woo those who decide where the games will be held, when in fact often the decision has already been made, and that the Olympic number two, Korea's Dr Kim Un Yung, is a trained killer and a former spy.

Notice how Korea is mentioned twice.  I have been following the pressure on the Korean government to pardon convicted former Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee.   Now, it has happened.  Pyeonchang may now get the 2018 Olympics, and they might have gotten them without Lee's help, but if they get the Olympics now, those Games will be further tarnished.

From the Herald:

President Lee Myung-bak has decided to pardon convicted former Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee to give him a free hand to work for the nation's bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics.
The Cabinet yesterday approved the Justice Ministry's proposal to restore his civil rights in a special yearend amnesty as of Thursday.
In August, a court sentenced him to a suspended three-year prison term and a fine of 110 billion won ($94 million) for tax evasion and breach of duty, wrapping up years of litigations over company bond issuances in the late-1990s allegedly aimed at transferring management control over the group to his son Lee Jae-yong.
The 67-year-old Lee had led the nation's largest conglomerate before he resigned in April 2008 in the wake of the scandal. At his own request, the International Olympic Committee suspended his membership in that year.
The presidential pardon is aimed to boost Korea's chance to host the Winter Olympics at the northern mountain resort of PyeongChang after two unsuccessful bids.
During the Cabinet meeting, Lee said he made the decision "for the sake of national interest" following repeated requests from sports circles, businesses and Gangwon Province, where the city is located.

"He should make efforts to contribute to the nation in the world of sports and help boost Korea's national competitiveness," the president was quoted as saying by his spokesman Kim Eun-hye.
The Justice Ministry expects the tycoon to be able to restore his IOC membership and participate in an IOC conference scheduled for February, which is crucial for the selection of the venue the 2018 games. Samsung expressed gratitude in an official statement, saying Lee will exert his utmost effort to support PyeongChang's bid.
Business groups welcomed the decision. "We hope Samsung will take this opportunity to redouble efforts to restore public trust through more transparent management and the implementation of increased social responsibility," the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry said.

In the penultimate paragraph, Lee is expect to restore his IOC membership.  Now that Korea has lost some credibility in the rule-of-law department, the OIC could gain some credibility by denying Lee a position.

In the last paragraph, business groups hope Samsung will restore trust by becoming more transparent. Why would Samsung do that?  The pardon shows that there is no downside to unethical behavior.

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