Back now to the upcoming Beijing Olympic Games. I mentioned before their rampant commercialism. That is certainly not a recent phenomenon by any means, but nonetheless an ever-growing annoyance, clearly at variance with the original “Olympic spirit” and quite possibly a major reason behind the awarding of the Games to Beijing in the first place (that huge Chinese market!), despite the country’s deficiencies in the area of human rights and free information that we have already seen, as well as Beijing’s own deficiencies in sheer clean air which we may be about to witness.

The guardian of the Games and their “Olympic spirit” is supposed to be the 110 members of the International Olympic Committee, lead by its president, the Belgian Jacques Rogge. For anyone who might have any confidence in that body as a defender of the Olympics against the seductions of money, the recent article by Evi Simeoni in the leading German daily the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (or FAZ) should provide a bracing corrective (The Rivalry of the Applicants). Simply put: the IOC is corrupt. It has been notoriously corrupt in the past; there seems little likelihood that it will be any less corrupt for these Games or in the future. Indeed, as we are reminded at the article’s very beginning, these 110 members and their hangers-on look corrupt: they fly first-class and drink the finest whiskey; golden watches glimmer from their wrists; and they consort with the rich, the noble, national heros and captains of industry as they grapple with the important decision they must make every two years: which location will be granted the right to stage the Summer or Winter Olympics seven years down the line?

The next such decision is due next year concerning the Summer Games of 2016; the last one was issued last year, when the IOC met in Guatemala City, Guatemala, and awarded the Winter Olympics of 2014 to the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. Simeoni describes that particular episode in a section of her article headed “Caviar, Vodka, and Beautiful Women.” Her basic message is that the 2014 Winter Olympics were successfully bought and paid for in Guatemala City by the Russian wealth oligarchy. An ice-skating rink was erected just opposite the hotel where the IOC was staying, with the Bolshoi Ballet and Olympic-quality figure skaters giving performances. In that hotel itself, lobbyists for the Russians swarmed around the committee members. The day before the vote, Russian (then) President Vladimir Putin was on-hand personally, and took to an expensive dinner the representatives of the three major winter sport organizations, for skiing, ice hockey and figure skating – even though IOC regulations forbid that sort of contact on the part of committee members.

Salt Lake City Scandal

You would think the IOC had learned nothing from its really big scandal, the one that erupted in 1999 over the awarding of the 2002 Winter Olympics to Salt Lake City. That resulted, in March of that year, in the expulsion of six IOC members due to bribery offenses. But subsequent developments strongly suggested that these six were merely scapegoats for something that ran far more deeply among IOC ranks, selected for elimination because of their relative unimportance. One member who escaped any censure was the South Korean Kim Un-Yong, who as head of the Union of All Sporting Organizations was too important to jettison, even though his gains from the Salt Lake City corruption trough were relatively clear: his son gained a lucrative job there, while his piano-playing daughter was engaged to play with the Salt Lake City symphony orchestra. Kim in fact later challenged Jacques Rogge for election as IOC President – just before he was tried and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail in his home country for accepting bribes.

As the shenanigans in Guatemala City demonstrate, the IOC is unwilling and unable to truly clean house. Perhaps Jacques Rogge is trying to do what he can: Simeoni’s article mentions how, at a meeting in Athens last June to make up the short-list for the 2016 Summer Games, Prague, Baku, and Doha were discarded. (That left Tokyo, Madrid, Chicago, and Rio de Janeiro to pick among for next year’s 2016 decision, by the way. Madrid is thought to have no chance because the IOC does not want to stage two Summer Games in a row in the same continent, in this case in Europe since London has the Games in 2012.) Prague and Baku perhaps made sense, in terms of insufficient infrastructure – but Doha, with all that oil money? Turns out that the money was exactly the point: although a cover-story was concocted that rejected Doha due to alleged missing of deadlines, in reality Rogge struck that name of the list personally because he did not want the IOC to have to resist the temptations that wealthy oil-sheiks could offer.

Nothing Really To Do with Athletes

Keep all this in mind as you observe the coming Beijing Games and how they are run – indeed, as you have already observed in the alacrity with which Rogge and his IOC rolled over when the Chinese authorities broke the promises they had made about allowing free Internet access to all information sources. These Games have nothing to do with the accepted behavior of modern states, nor for that matter do they really have to do with the athletes. (If they did, as Sally Jenkins pointed out in the Washington Post, why would the IOC be taking such a gamble with the air quality?)

Just ask an athlete: Die Zeit carries a lively interview with Imke Duplitzer, the outspoken champion (female) fencer from Germany (“The IOC Has Too Much Power!”). Frau Duplitzer is now 33 and has already won all there is to win. Although she is apparently still in top form, this at least makes her immune to any pressure the IOC might want to put on her to shut up or else jeopardize her participation in the 2012 Games. She is looking forward to just getting in-and-out of Beijing for her competitions; she’s not interested in hanging around or having anything to do with the opening ceremony. Her reasoning has nothing to do with the possible quality of the air – fencing is an indoor sport, anyway – but rather with disillusionment with the German Olympic committee and the IOC as well. One interesting point she gives is in response to an inquiry about whether she will write a blog about her experiences at the Games; after all, the IOC has now authorized athletes to do that. In reality, though, that means nothing because, according to Duplitzer, you need to have a good lawyer alongside you to write any such blog and be sure that you stay within the mandatory IOC guidelines. In general: “The IOC always talks about Olympic thoughts and presents itself as guardian of the Olympic Ideal. But that is not the case. The IOC has clear economic interests and runs the Games like a sales-exhibition. And it has gotten more that way in the last few years.”

Oh, and there is some good news now from the IOC: Beijing’s air is safe for one and all! These glad tidings come to us via China Daily, the English-language official Chinese newspaper (h/t to James Fallows at The Atlantic). Yes, Arne Ljungqvist, chairman of the IOC medical commission, has given Beijing’s air quality the “all clear” for the upcoming Games. I’m glad that that problem’s solved!

Update: Here’s another Die Zeit interview about the Beijing Olympics with a prominent German athlete, this time swimmer Michael Groß: “The IOC Betrays the Olympic Ideal”. (If you don’t remember his impressive accomplishments in the 1980s – and can’t read the grey sidebar in the article about them, because it’s written in German – you can go here.) Groß does applaud the awarding of the Games to Beijing, but wishes the time between the awarding and now had been better used to nudge the Chinese government to better behavior. He also is confident that swimming does not have a doping problem, although he had a ring-side seat (namely as a member of a anti-doping commission) that brought him to the conviction, that he expresses here, that that is a very big problem in bicycling.

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