olympics The reports are so overwhelming, the excuses so flimsy, the smell of the entire Olympic governance process so foul, that you have to wonder why someone won’t take charge and clean up the mess before Olympic sport falls into such disrepute that the Games themselves are destroyed. Consider:

  • Clear evidence that the judges who decide who will host the Olympic Games openly accept bribes and award the Games to the city that offers the judges the best ‘perks’, not the city that is best qualified
  • Clear evidence that judges in the many ‘adjudicated’ sports accept bribes and collude with other judges to rig the results
  • Clear evidence, reported on several times in recent years in The New Yorker and other publications that drug testing is grossly inadequate, corrupt, and biased in favour of athletes from certain countries
  • Statements by many leading athletes that governance of Olympic sport, including drug testing, does not protect athletes sufficiently from abuses, and that use of performance-enhancing drugs in Olympic sport is ‘rife’ and ‘nearly universal’

The latest report, this week in the Orange County Register , should come as no surprise to anyone. It says the US Olympic Committee routinely overlooked repeated failed drug tests of over 100 top athletes, who hold dozens of Olympic medals and world records between them. The USOC has routinely fired anyone who dares to question its disreputable activities, including two heads of its drug testing programs. And then they assert the fired employees are just making up allegations (30,000 pages’ worth in this latest report) out of sour grapes because they were fired.

In business, situations like Enron proved that where there is a conflict of interest, the result is all too often abuse, corruption, and fraud. The Olympic bodies like the IOC and the USOC are self-governing bodies, responsible for policing athletes and officials, and for promoting Olympic events and maximizing the success of their athletes. The conflict of interest is utterly unarguable, but there is so much money, and so much national pride in Olympic wins that nobody has shown the courage to address it, and the outrages it has clearly produced. The greatest outrage is the bodies of young athletes destroyed by performance drugs, and the spirits of young athletes destroyed by being cheated out of legitimate rewards.

There is a simple answer. Olympic federations should be limited to doing what they do best: promoting the Olympic movement. Policing of athletes and officials, and standard-setting for both, should be the sole business of a different, autonomous body whose job is to keep amateur sports clean and fair, period. Likewise, the selection of Olympic sites should be made by another separate, autonomous body. Both new bodies should operate completely transparently, with all proceedings and records open to public scrutiny, unlike the secretive Olympic committees.

We have started to implement reforms to prevent management corruption and greed from ruining corporations, their employees and shareholders. It’s time to do the same for sports governance. We must not allow corruption, greed, and nationalism to destroy amateur athletics and the lifelong dreams of young athletes around the world. It’s time for those who govern sport to clean up their act.

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