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Hoberman Q&A: Outlining corruption, doping collusion at the IOC, UCI

  • By Mark Johnson
  • Published Jan. 4, 2013
  • Updated Jan. 4, 2013 at 5:13 PM EDT
Dr. John Hoberman sees a long, sordid history limiting current efforts to clean up cycling and world sport. Photo: Gerry McManus | Change Cycling Now


VN: Why should the personalities of the people who climb to powerful positions in world sport matter to the Independent Commission?
JH:Let us begin with some of the personalities that have been recruited by the IOC. Juan Antonio Samaranch, the unrepentant Spanish fascist who occupied the IOC presidency from 1980 to 2001, brought with him from Franco’s Spain an authoritarian style that facilitated the bribery of many IOC members, damaged the prospects for moving against doping, and produced a generation of compliant (formally “elected”) appointees who were eventually instructed to address the IOC president as “Excellency.” In 1985, Samaranch conferred Olympic Orders on the East German dictator Erich Honecker and the architect of the East German doping system, Manfred Ewald.

By my count, during his term of office Samaranch presided over the induction of 83 members and honorary members of the IOC. A striking number of those “elected” turned out to be criminals or frauds or simply ethically dubious people whose presence among the Olympic elite should raise serious questions about the values the IOC claims to represent.

Franco Carraro (IOC 1982), an Italian politician and football executive, was forced out of the Italian Football Association (FIGC) as a consequence of his involvement in the Calciopoli scandal regarding the rigging of professional soccer games; yet he remains an IOC member. In 2005, Carraro was denying that Juventus players were still doping, following the revelations about their doping regimen during the team’s fantastically successful run during the period 1994-1998.

Pál Schmitt (IOC 1982), elected in 2010 as president of Hungary, resigned from office in April 2012 as a result of a plagiarism scandal around his doctoral thesis. The moral of this story is that, while too crooked to be a Hungarian politician, he’s still good enough for the IOC.

The former South Korean CIA operative and Tae Kwando entrepreneur Kim Unyong (IOC 1986) wound up serving prison time in Seoul for corruption in his native country.

Ivan Slavkov of Bulgaria (IOC 1987) was caught by journalists soliciting a bribe in 2004. In 2005, the IOC Ethics Committee ruled that his willingness to be bribed and to solicit bribes for London’s 2012 Olympic bid was “contrary to the ethical principles derived from the Olympic Charter and the IOC codes of ethics and of an extremely serious nature.” So out he went.

The Indonesian timber magnate Mohamad (Bob) Hasan (IOC 1994), a longtime crony of the disgraced former President Suharto, was convicted in 1998 of defrauding the Indonesian state of $75,000,000 and sentenced to a six-year prison term.

The South Korean businessman Kun Hee Lee (IOC 1996), the chairman of Samsung Electronics, was convicted of bribery and tax evasion in 2008. The Seoul Central District Court imposed a fine of $109 million and a suspended jail sentence of three years. In Dcember 2009, the South Korean government pardoned Lee to promote its bid for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. In February 2011, he was reinstated as a member of the IOC, despite the fact that he had “violated ethical principles and tarnished the reputation of the Olympic movement,” according to an IOC spokesman.

Guy Drut (IOC 1996), a French Olympic hurdling champion (1980) and former French sports minister, was handed a 15-month suspended sentence in 2005 by a French court on account of his involvement in a kickback scandal at Paris city hall. Pardoned by President Jacques Chirac, he remains on the IOC.

To this list we can add, among others, Joao Havelange (IOC 1963), the all-powerful FIFA president from 1974 to 1998, who resigned from the IOC in disgrace in 2011 following the disclosure of court documents that showed he had accepted millions of dollars in bribes from the bankrupted marketing company ISL during the 1990s.

By now it should be clear that IOC membership offers no guarantees regarding the integrity of the people who are inducted into this exclusive group. At the same time, the sheer inspirational force of the opening and closing ceremonies at the Olympic Games has led millions around the world to assume otherwise. How, after all, could the custodians of the world’s most popular secular religion be anything other than honorable international public servants?

The IOC’s response to the doping epidemic during the Samaranch presidency was inadequate to the point of being fraudulent, as previously noted. Given the IOC’s disinterest in formulating a real anti-doping policy, and the high concentration of self-serving opportunists in its ranks, it is not surprising that its prominent members have included facilitators of systematic doping.

Primo Nebiolo, who was inducted into the IOC in 1994, served as president of the International Track & Field Federation (IAAF) for almost two decades (1981-1999). In 1987, he presided over the IAAF Athletics Championships in Rome. The 1987 Championships are remembered for two reasons. First, Nebiolo was implicated in a long jump cheating scandal that was staged to win a medal for a fellow Italian. Second, a competition that included Ben Johnson, a host of East Germans, and many other steroid-boosted athletes produced exactly one doping positive: a Swiss female runner few people had ever heard of. In addition, Dr. Francesco Conconi, the notorious Italian doping scientist whose blood doping activities were exposed in the Swedish press as early as 1985, kept Nebiolo informed about his secret use of the blood-boosting drug EPO with many elite athletes. Conconi spent many years as a member of both the IOC and UCI Medical Commissions. This was not the first time a major Medical Commission had been infiltrated by a pro-doping advocate. Günther Heinze (IOC 1981), a former general secretary of the East German National Olympic Committee and an unapologetic facilitator of doping in the former GDR, served on the IAAF Medical Commission along with Manfred Höppner, once the director of the East German Sports Medical Service and a convicted facilitator of doping. Heinze remained an honorary member of the IOC until his death in 2010.

Francesco Conconi was financed by Mario Pescante (IOC 1994), president of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), who lost this position in 1998 on account of the corruption scandal that closed the CONI doping laboratory at Acqua Acetosa near Rome. Pescante retained his position on the IOC and was made minister of sport by Silvio Berlusconi after his election as prime minister in 2001. (Berlusconi dismissed the CONI lab scandal as a left-wing conspiracy against the honor of Italian sport.) Pescante ignored the report on Italian doping practices the anti-doping activist Alessandro Donati gave him in 1993. Three years later, Donati provided this report to the UCI, which instituted hematocrit surveillance as a form of doping control in early 1997.

Serving as an IAAF vice president throughout Primo Nebiolo’s 18-year term as IAAF president was the Swedish sports bureaucrat Dr. Arne Ljungqvist (IOC 1994), who also chaired the IAAF Medical Commission from 1980 to 2004. He has chaired the IOC Medical Commission since 2003 and risen steadily at the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) since being appointed to the WADA Foundation Board in 1999; as of 2008 he had become a WADA vice president. When Nebiolo died in 1999, Ljungqvist praised him as “a very strong leader.” Ljungqvist seems to have had a taste for strong leadership, including his long collaboration with IOC president Samaranch. Ljungqvist waited for Samaranch to die before criticizing Samaranch’s toleration of East German doping. “The worst thing is, he knew about it,” said the self-proclaimed anti-doping champion, long after the time to act had passed.

Joseph (Sepp) Blatter (IOC 1999) has since 1998 been the president of the International Football Federation (FIFA), which in recent years has become notorious around the world as a financially corrupt organization. That FIFA president Blatter remains in office after the revelations of 2011 is a testimony to the sheer power of the international federation autocrats, an advantage currently enjoyed by Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen among others. There is no one on earth with the statutory authority to remove a Sepp Blatter, no matter how ethically compromised he may be. Only a majority vote of FIFA’s 209 national associations can remove him, and Blatter’s various payoffs to national officials have ensured this would not happen.

FIFA’s anti-doping operation and its relationship with the global anti-doping authorities have proceeded without reference to FIFA’s endemic corruption. In January 2004, WADA president Richard Pound met with FIFA President Blatter — who is a member of WADA’s governing board — to agree on a collaborative anti-doping agreement. This was a major propaganda victory for Blatter, who magnanimously offered to put at WADA’s disposal FIFA’s doping control officers, all of whom were medical doctors, and Mr. Pound was duly grateful for this offer: “We’re very anxious to tap in to FIFA’s worldwide network of doping control officers,” he said. “The opportunity to take advantage of the technical, logistical and economic benefits of this network creates a win-win situation for us all. In addition, the message that will be delivered in the fight against doping in sport by the caretakers of the most popular sport in the world will be very powerful.”

In April 2008, FIFA and WADA signed a letter of intent to strengthen their relationship. A year later, FIFA Chief Medical Officer Jiri Dvorak announced that WADA had “accepted a plan to limit the number of players who will be required to detail their whereabouts each day during the offseason.” WADA president Fahey objected that this arrangement “ignores the reality of doping in sport,” but it was accepted anyway. Dr. Dvorak successfully argued that testing should be limited to players deemed “at risk,” referring to players who were recovering from injuries or who had a previous doping violation. “If there is any suspicion, then anybody can be tested anywhere at any time.” WADA director-general David Howman insisted that FIFA was not getting special treatment. But he also commented: “It was done because they specifically said they would appreciate it.” He added: “We will stand by and watch and see. We are waiting with some patience but certainly optimism to see how the year pans out.” In October 2009, WADA president John Fahey praised FIFA’s “robust and extensive testing program,” but added there was room for improvement. Mr. Blatter conceded that he had once been too optimistic to claim that there was no doping in football. “There is,” he said, ”but not very much.”

On August 3, 2010, FIFA announced that its doping controls officers had carried out 552 urine and blood tests on 256 players prior to the World Cup matches in South Africa, and that there had not been a single positive result. In addition to the tests conducted by FIFA, member associations and national anti-doping organizations had done additional tests. This was the fourth World Cup in a row that has produced no positive doping tests. “In comparison to the 2006 FIFA World Cup,” said FIFA Chief Medical Officer Dvorak, “FIFA has doubled the number of pre-competition tests. Players have never been subjected to such in-depth testing ahead of a World Cup as they were this year. It was therefore all the more pleasing that the teams were so cooperative, and the test results prove that top performances can be achieved in football without resorting to prohibited substances and methods.”

Manuela di Centa (IOC 1998) is an Italian former cross-country skier who won seven Olympic medals, including two gold, at the 1994 Lillehammer and 1998 Nagano Winter Olympic Games. In October 2012, di Centa announced that she would be suing the Italian anti-doping activist and researcher Alessandro Donati in response to his claim that she used the blood-boosting drug EPO during her athletic career. Her problem is that in 1999 the Italian magazine GQ reported that her name had been found on the hard disk police had confiscated from Francesco Conconi’s medical office computer. According the report, di Centa was one of about a thousand Italian and non-Italian endurance athletes who had been treated with EPO. In 2003, Donati was asked why an IOC member described by the Public Attorney of Ferrara as a doped athlete was still a member of the IOC: “Why doesn’t international sport ask for her removal? Because there is a general complicity. They accept Manuela Di Centa and she accepts them.”

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Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson

Writer-photographer Mark Johnson's work has been published in titles including VeloNews in the United States, Cycling Weekly in the UK, Vélo in France, and Ride Cycling Review in Australia as well as general-interest publications including The Wall Street Journal and the San Diego Union-Tribune. His book on the Garmin pro team, Argyle Armada, was published by VeloPress in 2012. A Cat. 2 road cyclist, Mark has bicycled across the United States twice and completed an Ironman triathlon. He graduated from UC San Diego and has a Ph.D. in English literature from Boston University. His other passion is surfing, which he does frequently from his home in Del Mar, California. Follow him on Twitter @ironstringmark.

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