|SEN. GEORGE MITCHELL|
March 1, 1999
A panel commissioned by the U.S. Olympic Committee and headed by Sen. George Mitchell issued a final report critical of Salt Lake City's Olympic bid. Jim Lehrer talks with the former Senate majority leader about the panel's findings.
JIM LEHRER: The Olympics story is first tonight. Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell headed a panel that looked into the U.S. Olympic Committee's part of the problems. He joins us now. Senator, welcome.
GEORGE MITCHELL, Chairman, Olympic Oversight Committee: Thank you very much. Nice to be here.
JIM LEHRER: Sir, your report said today that "the Olympic flame must burn clean once again." How dirty did you find it to be?
|The integrity of the Olympics.|
GEORGE MITCHELL: The Olympic movement has been badly damaged. Its reputation and integrity, I think, has been harmed. And the report indicates that there's good evidence for that, good reason for that. We found responsibility at all levels, local, national, and international. It's not irreparable. I believe it can be corrected, but it's going to take a willingness to accept responsibility, accountability, and significant reform at all levels.
JIM LEHRER: Now, the problem centers around getting a particular Olympics game at a particular city. Is that correct?
GEORGE MITCHELL: That's correct.
JIM LEHRER: And what you found and what others have found is widespread bribery, is that it?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Widespread gift giving of an improper nature that really in a form of gift creeps -- started as general goodwill of small gifts of minimal value to large numbers of people and gradually evolved into very large sums in the guise of scholarships for individual IOC members and their families, and direct payments to influence votes, in effect, to buy votes for a particular city.
JIM LEHRER: And did you find that for the most part this system worked? In other words, the city that paid the largest sum of money to the members of the committee ended up getting the games?
GEORGE MITCHELL: We're not able to determine that because we did not have access to information about a large number of cities.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
GEORGE MITCHELL: But it's very clear that this is a pervasive process. I think in the case of Salt Lake City, the reverse was probably the case. They had the best presentation, the best facilities, and I think what makes this particularly sad and tragic is they didn't need to stoop to this level to win the games. I think they had a good presentation.
JIM LEHRER: Well, then based on your investigation, why, in fact, did they stoop in Salt Lake City?
|Salt Lake City's role.|
GEORGE MITCHELL: There was a culture of improper gift giving that was pervasive, notorious, has existed for a long time. In January of 1991, more than eight years ago, a delegation from Toronto went to the International Olympic Committee, presented a report in which they warned in strikingly prophetic language about what would happen to the integrity of the games if this improper culture was not somehow reigned in or stopped. No changes were made. The culture expanded, and an attitude of "everybody's doing it, and so we have to participate, otherwise we might be at a competitive disadvantage" took hold.
JIM LEHRER: And they did nothing about that Toronto report? In fact, it even got worse, is that what you're saying?
GEORGE MITCHELL: It spread over time. There is a dispute in recollection among the International Olympic Committee and the Toronto representatives as to whether there was any follow-up, what the degree of participation was, but it's very clear that no effective action was taken and the problem became even more widespread.
JIM LEHRER: And it just became an accepted culture of the Olympics, is that correct?
GEORGE MITCHELL: I think that's unfortunately the case. Widespread, notorious, many, many people participating in it, millions of dollars changing hands in a way that left these bid cities in a situation where they didn't have confidence that if they just relied on the merits that they might prevail.
JIM LEHRER: Did -- in the process of your investigation, of your looking at this, did anybody attempt to justify this culture?
GEORGE MITCHELL: No. No one did. Obviously, it's very hard in all human affairs, in politics, in this area, in business and other areas to judge past actions based upon current standards and with the benefit of hindsight. I think what happened of course is the Olympics has become very big business. It is a multibillion dollar enterprise, and winning the games is a huge civic enterprise and a lot of good people simply got involved in a way that they thought they were doing something good, but the means that were being used were not good.
JIM LEHRER: So it was so important to get the games that it was worth just about any price to pay. Is that really what was the mind set after a while?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, people were doing things that clearly were wrong, that they should not have been doing, that were improper. There is of course a separate criminal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department. We did not have subpoena power, the ability to compel witnesses or documents, and we of course would not in any event express a judgment on the legality or illegality of the conduct. That judgment will be made by others. But it's very clear that what happened was wrong, cannot be condoned. The context, however, is a pervasive culture in which everybody else is doing it and competition leads people to take these kinds of actions.
JIM LEHRER: Now, you were very specific in some recommendations that you want carried out that you think will clean this up. Tell us, what are the most important of those? What do you think can be done to change this?
|The report's suggestions.|
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, first, of course, there must be clear rules regulating conduct in the site selection process, and those rules must be vigorously enforced.
JIM LEHRER: By whom? By whom? Who should enforce them?
GEORGE MITCHELL: There should be an independent Office of Compliance at the national level, the United States Olympic Committee, and at the international level, the International Olympic Committee. Second, we strongly urge that the U.S. Olympic Committee and the IOC cooperate to encourage the adoption of a convention against bribery, which was adopted by the Organization for Economic Development. It's an international organization. Thirty-four countries have signed this convention, including the U.S., and most European countries and most of the countries that have hosted or will host the Olympics. To say once and for all that this conduct will be criminal if it occurs, it would extend the reach of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. We also recommended substantial changes in the oversight by the U.S. Olympic Committee when games are held in the U.S., so that you don't just have the city interacting with the International Olympic Committee, but the U.S. Olympic Committee meets its existing statutory obligations to oversee and make sure this doesn't happen. And finally, we propose significant structural change in the makeup and governance of the International Olympic Committee to make it open, democratic, accountable, and financially transparent.
JIM LEHRER: Is that possible to make it open, democratic, and transparent?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Not only do I think it's possible, I think it's absolutely essential. I do not believe that the Olympic movement will be able to regain its credibility and maintain the high regard it has had around the world if they don't take this kind of action. I think that the credibility will be permanently impaired if they do not act.
JIM LEHRER: Now, do you have any reason to believe that your recommendations are going to be taken seriously by the International Olympic Committee?
GEORGE MITCHELL: I believe they will be because I don't think they have any real alternative but to engage in reform. This is not just the United States saying this. I want to emphasize that. Americans do not have a monopoly on morality. We're not the only ones who care when things happen in a wrong way. British officials, German officials, officials from all around the world have made very strong statements about the need for reform. I think they must reform. I believe they will.
JIM LEHRER: Why has it gone this far, Senator? I mean, you looked at all of this. You mentioned it at the beginning, but it seems so blatant and so open and so corrupt, how could this happen?
GEORGE MITCHELL: It's the question that one asks all the time in life when we suddenly discover something that we had accepted, taken for granted, didn't question, and suddenly realize was wrong. As I said, there were some people who acted in a very wrong way. There were many, many other people who looked the other way, and there were still others who simply participated in what they thought was a noble enterprise but didn't take the time to find out how the enterprise was being run or how the objective was being achieved.
JIM LEHRER: Specifically, how corrupt was the Salt Lake City operation?
|Corruption in Salt Lake City.|
GEORGE MITCHELL: It was very seriously wrong. We estimate between $4 million and $7 million in either direct payments or in-kind payments were made. Not all of that was inappropriate. You have a mixture of appropriate reimbursement and inappropriate reimbursement.
JIM LEHRER: Compare -- give us an example of each.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, a person from the IOC flies to Salt Lake City to inspect the city and to listen to its presentation and then flies back home, and Salt Lake City reimburses them. There's nothing wrong with that. However, a person, same place, same situation, books a flight that stops in Orlando, stops in Atlanta, stops in Montreal, stops in Salt Lake City, and he charges each one of them a round trip first-class ticket full fare and pockets the difference, that's wrong. Secondly, a so-called scholarship program set up to help scholars in other countries particularly athletes -- the money goes instead to the family member of an International Olympic Committee member who is not an athlete, and in some cases doesn't go to school, and in many cases received benefits that are completely outside any realm of impropriety. That's the kind of thing that occurred. The examples are legion. I could go on, but that gives you some flavor of how this thing went wrong.
JIM LEHRER: Is there any one particular thing that just really made you angry, that really made you -- oh, my goodness, I can't believe that people did this?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, I think the thing that makes me most sad, not angry, is that the attention has been deflected away from the athletes. I think all of us thrill at the performance of great athletes at the peak of their efforts in the prime of life, in the brilliant focus of the Olympics. I think it's become a great sporting and even much more than a sporting event. It's kind of a metaphor for life the best seeking to be their best at a particular time. And yet all of this attention is now focused on non-athletes and non-athletic events. It isn't too much to ask that the people who put on the Olympic Games aspire to and maintain the same high standards that we expect of the athletes who perform in the games.
JIM LEHRER: Senator, your Commission has finished its business. Do you plan to stay involved in any way, in other words to raise Cain -- to keep the feet to the fire if you need to?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, our mandate has expired but I think it's going to go on because we've been asked to meet with a very large number of organizations and individuals, possibly to testify in various forums. We're going to do what we can. Of course, we're a bunch of volunteers brought together from all over the country. It's been a very intense and difficult couple of months to put this whole thing together. We want to do it because we believe in the Olympic Movement. We believe in its integrity. We think it's a great thing, not just for people in this country, but around the world. And we'll do what we can to push this forward. But, essentially, the success or failure whether l turn on the recognition by members of the Olympic Movement that is their interest and in the interest of the movement to make these reforms. We have no power to compel anyone to do anything, but the force of public opinion, the sponsors, the athletes, the governments all saying, "this must be done," that I believe is what will cause change to occur.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Mitchell, thank you very much.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Thank you.