by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

“The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted the spoons.”
— Emerson

The people who run the Olympics have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

Inside are goodies such as free trips, jobs for children, college scholarships and an old favorite, cash.

These goodies were offered by cities hoping to host the Olympic Games. Since the Games and all their tourism dollars come only once every two years, you can see how, as the competition swelled, so did the pot.

And the Olympic people helped themselves. Again and again. Some really went overboard. One African representative reportedly showered his family with a half-dozen trips, tickets to sporting events and a shopping spree on someone else’s credit card.

Yet when the secret got out, suddenly, they were all innocent. They arrived at a hearing last week with lawyers, papers and explanations. Things got hot. One vice president named Un Yong Kim — accused of using his Olympic influence to garner concert dates around the world for his piano-playing daughter — got into an argument and dropped into a martial arts stance, hands up, legs bent.


The Olympic Games. Let us go, or we karate chop your head.

A vote for corruption

When the smoke cleared from this “crackdown” on corruption, the International Olympic Committee (translation: how much you got?) expelled six of its members. Six. Total. Out of more than 100. And the one guy who was completely untouched? The president, Juan Antonio Samaranch.

In fact, he got a vote of confidence: 86-2. This, of course, came from the members, most of whom Samaranch appointed to their lifetime terms.

While we’re at it, why don’t we let Bill Gates’ family decide whether Microsoft is a monopoly?

Here is a truism of sports: When scandals and corruption go on for long periods, the guy in charge knows about it. And Samaranch not only knew about all this beak-wetting, he openly participates in it, taking first-class treatment wherever he goes, accepting expensive gifts, even demanding people call him “Your excellency” although the only thing I can see he is excellent at is lying.

Here is the extent of his delusion. Samaranch, 78, reminds anyone within earshot that he is “an unpaid president.” He doesn’t mention that last year alone he received $204,000 for living expenses in Lausanne, Switzerland. If those are the wages of volunteerism, we’d all like to sign up.

But here’s the shame of all this. That there is no shame. That people like Samaranch, pounding his chest over his swift justice, refuse to acknowledge the damage they do to a lofty institution. It is the damage of broken trust.

And it is irreparable.

America’s loss of faith

Certain institutions are more than bodies and buildings. The Olympics, for example, are about an ideal. The world coming together, in fair competition.

In the interest of that fairness, over the years, amateurism was the code. Athletes were prohibited from taking a penny for their skills. Many suffered terribly for this. Some, like Jim Thorpe, were stripped of medals when the slightest violation — no matter how far in the past — was discovered.

Same went for drugs. Blood doping. Even certain cold medicines. Gold medalists were uncrowned because, as we were told, the Olympics must adhere to the highest standards of fair, unbiased competition. No special treatment.

So can’t Samaranch see the hypocrisy of his actions? When you have athletes following airtight rules and officials stuffing their pockets, how can people believe in the Olympics?

They can’t. Which is why Samaranch should have resigned the minute this scandal became real. But he didn’t. He doesn’t think he has to. He has been running the show for so long, 18 years, he seems to think he’s one of the five Olympic rings.

But by staying in office, denying accountability, he destroys the very reverence of his position. The same thing happened with Bill Clinton and the presidency. They both lowered the bar.

Which is why we no longer trust judges, presidents, cops, even some religious leaders — all positions that once automatically inspired respect.

Now add the Olympics to that list. Just another thing we can’t believe in. It’s funny. Samaranch keeps insisting that the Games are bigger than the actions of certain members. But to prove that, he must accept that they also are bigger than he is.

Somehow, that cookie keeps escaping his grasp.

To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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