“Faster, Higher, Stronger”: Corruption and Negligence Again Reach Olympic Levels In Rio

Olympic_rings_without_rims.svgUnknown-1Below is my column in USA Today on the history of corruption and negligence at the Olympics. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) remains a troubled (and frankly troubling) international organization. After this column ran, a new doping scandal emerged around the Kenyan Olympic team. Here is the column:


With outrage growing over its failure to bar the Russian Olympic team for cheating and the shocking environmental conditions for the Rio Games, the International Olympic Committee continues to perform its now familiar routine of spins and shifts. Like the much maligned sport of solo synchronized swimming (which was discontinued in 1992 after someone noticed that you cannot synchronize anything with a single swimmer), the IOC continues to blissfully perform alone to its sole satisfaction and standards.

Rio is the IOC’s most signature moment: Games held in a lethally polluted area with some athletes who are viewed as equally dirty. Dirty air, dirty water, dirty games. None of it seems to matter to the IOC. At a time of both political and legal backlash against distant and indifferent international organizations from the European Union to FIFA, the IOC remains a bastion of privilege and impunity.

When England left the EU, critics played on the fact that few people could even name the heads of the EU and even fewer believed that they had any real influence over the organization. In the case of FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, it took a U.S. criminal investigation and surprise raids to finally unseat officials who used the organization to fund excesses that would have made Caligula blush.

In an age of globalization, international organizations are assuming greater and greater control over business, political and sporting events. Founded in 1894, the IOC is one of the oldest international governing bodies. Indeed, it was a model for world governance and cooperation. Yet it has long become the symbol of arrogance and corruption that accompanies many such organizations.

15-07-05-Schloß-Caputh-RalfR-N3S_1528Indeed, corruption and the Games have long gone hand in hand like a baton at a relay race. Emperor Nero reportedly generously bribed Olympic judges to allow him to win events at the Games. The IOC (and its subordinate sporting organizations) has continued that history with a checkered record of conflicts of interests, bribery and corruption:

The 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics were the subject of various bribery allegations, including a French judge who admitted to being pressured to vote for Russian skaters in a quid pro quo to help French skaters. Former IOC vice president Kim Un Yong was found guilty of accepting $700,000 in gifts and bribes as part of the Seoul Olympics and the Salt Lake City Olympics. Various officials have been accused of corruption in the selection of cities for the Games. Whistle-blowers claim that millions have been demanded in bribes by IOC officials, including well-documented “gifts” associated with the Salt Lake City games.

The Rio Olympics have already been marred by allegations that the head of Athletics Kenya sought a $24,000 bribe to reduce the suspensions of two athletes. Indeed, even before the 2016 Games started, there were new bribery allegations related to the selection of Tokyo for the 2020 Games, including a criminal investigation into payments of $2 million from a bank in Japan to a company linked to the son of former International Association of Athletics Federations president Lamine Diack.

While insisting that IOC enforces strict rules against cheating, countries have been found to have falsified documents (as with the Chinese gymnasts in 2008) or doping (as with the Russians) without appropriate penalties. In the case of Russia, the World Anti-Doping Agency found a state-run doping scheme affecting 28 sports, including not only the swapping of samples but also 312 positive tests that Russia’s deputy minister of sport hid from WADA.

The question is, what does it take to get the IOC to actually ban a country?

225px-Vladimir_Putin_official_portraitThe answer is something more tangible for the IOC officials than sports or ethics. After intense pressure by President Vladimir Putin and Russia, the IOC left the decision up to the individual sporting federations, which are notorious for their susceptibility to influence and pressure. Of course, the IOC was clear that it would bar at least one Russian athlete: Yuliya Stepanova, the whistle-blower who revealed the state-run program. After she was found in violation of the rules in 2013, Stepanova, an 800-meter runner, disclosed the program and is now barred by the IOC despite serving her two-year suspension.

The only thing that exceeds the corruption of the IOC historically has been its incompetence. The IOC ignored a chorus of objections to the selection of Rio, which has long been an acutely dangerous and unhealthy city. Brazil has a record of making bait-and-switch promises, but the IOC accepted pledges that were almost laughable in their implausibility, such as transforming a polluted bay into a model of water treatment purity in a few years. After pledging $1 billion to clean up its cesspool, Rio later announced it would cut that budget down to $51 million.

One Brazilian expert put it simply, “Foreign athletes will literally be swimming in human crap.” Those that make it to the Games, that is. Athletes have not only been mugged in the streets of Rio but also mugged by Brazilian police.

As shown by the disastrous selection of Rio and the Russian doping scandal, nothing has really changed with the IOC. With the exception of rare criminal investigations, there remains no reliable mechanism for holding officials accountable or forcing greater transparency at the IOC. The international sporting community is highly hierarchical and insulated. Advancing up the chain of these organizations promises huge financial and personal rewards. What is needed is a systemic change in the structure and ethical rules governing the IOC and its subordinate sporting associations.

Until the world cries enough and demands reforms, the Olympic motto citius, altius, fortius (“faster, higher, stronger”) will continue to represent for many the ever rising levels of corruption and incompetence of the International Olympic Committee.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

33 thoughts on ““Faster, Higher, Stronger”: Corruption and Negligence Again Reach Olympic Levels In Rio

  1. Well sure, you can go with Nick’s Entertainment Tonight as reported from Madison Wisconsin scoop on why Obama has skipped Brazil, or you can go with the Foreign Policy reason – there is a problem on just who is the legitimate president of Brazil today and that’s why many heads of state did not show up. Hundreds were invited – maybe 25 showed up.

    Here’s what USA Today had to say:

    “Among the notable absences are leaders from some of Brazil’s closest allies: Russia, India, China and South Africa — the so-called BRICS group of emerging market powerhouses that drew close to Brazil during during an aggressive, 15-year diplomatic push under Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Each instead sent their sports ministers.

    Reflecting South America’s ideological divide, only two regional leaders are here: fellow conservatives from Argentina and Paraguay. Leftist governments in Chile, Uruguay and Venezuela stayed home.

    “The foreign leaders that are here are from countries that have a cold and distant relationship with Brazil,” Basso said. “The timing couldn’t have been worse.”

  2. After eight years of dealing with Republicans who, to put it kindly, refuse to govern, I believe Obama has been proven to be a Man of Steel.

    But congratulations, Olly. The man who misses no opportunity to lecture on humility and natural rights, chooses the lie.

  3. Most do not believe we are better off than 8 years ago.

    We are in the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression. Our debt is now in the trillions of dollars, which we have saddled multiple future generations with paying off. African American unemployment is the highest it’s been in decades. Underemployment is rampant. The college educated are flipping burgers, and the best answer our regime seems to come up with is to try to increase minimum wage so you can enjoy a middle class lifestyle flipping burgers, which, of course, makes those burgers more expensive to buy. Plus, in order to secure votes they open the floodgates of illegal immigration, amnesty, and just about everything else they can do to flood the market with job seekers competing for the very jobs that the African American communities need so badly. But they just love them and keep voting for the very people making jobs more scarce. The cost of education absolutely skyrocketed after we subsidized it. The cost of doing business is atrocious. Terrorism is now increasingly common on our own soil, as well as abroad.

    There is this odd disconnect with the far Left. They claim that things have never been bette than during Obama, but at the same time, they’re rioting and protesting and writing heart wrenching essays about the plight of the jobless cities and minorities, the atrocious cost of education, etc. Do they never put these two things together?

    And just like in Detroit, Baltimore, and everywhere else that ultra Left policies have made false promises of Nirvana and driven their loyal voters’ neighborhoods into Third World War Zones, they blame the old white Republican who isn’t even there. Obama has not failed to get a single thing he wanted. The GOP was unable to check him at all.

    And yet, having gotten everything he wanted, he blames the conservatives for the failures of his own policies.

  4. There are always those who can’t see past the end of their nose. America’s problems have been in the making over the course of several administrations going back to the we’re number one days when there was little to no competition in the world for manufactured goods. The rest of the world used ingenuity, quality, and the holy trinity of corporate, labor, and government cooperation to slowly take over the top positions. The US has gone around in circles since the fifties/sixties resting on its laurels and complaining about everything except the real problem. The reason these other countries have taken the lead is that they came from positions of having their backs up against the wall. They had no laurels. They had no choice. America has had choices, two, to waffle between. America is xenophobic and refuses to acknowledge that there are some worthwhile paradigms out there.

    You can argue for or against Republicans or Democrats but the fact remains that the US is on the wrong track and has been for over a half century. The three stooges accelerated the decline exponentially. Obama has spent his terms recovering and attempting to get around Republican road blocks. Take the time to read some newspapers from a few years ago and you will see.

    Only the foolish and Trumpsters blame the moment when it is the momentum, people who can’t see past the ends of their noses. Perhaps that is the real reason why one after another Republican leader is distancing his and her self from Trump and focusing on their own positions. There is another fist pounding leader that comes to mind when you put the mindless with short memories together with someone who parades as the only solution, the only one, I alone. Been there, done that, time to evolve.

  5. In order to say something like that, you have to have a complete disconnect between cause and effect.

    There is absolutely nothing the GOP was able to prevent Obama from doing. He’s gotten everything he’s ever wanted, and when things go badly, he keeps blaming the last president from 8 years ago.

  6. Karen,
    Progressivism requires a short-memory and no personal responsibility or accountability. These folks literally believe they are the smartest people in the room and if their ideas fail then it MUST be someone else’s fault. Isaac’s tell and he cannot resist exposing it is his insistence that our culture needs to “evolve” away from paradigms that are rooted in America’s founding. What he and his fellow progressives will never admit is we’ve been “evolving” away from those founding paradigms for the past 100 years and we are collapsing under the weight of the bureaucratic state they have created. This crushing bureaucracy is the brainchild of both Republican and Democrat regimes. Both parties own this and so do the electorate that put them there.

  7. Regarding ‘he’s gotten everything he’s ever wanted’…

    Let’s keep it simple and one that everyone will remember since it is so very contemporary…

    Justice Garland.

  8. And there are 50 or 60 other Justice Garlands languishing out there.

    So much for the idiotic remark that he has gotten everything he has ever wanted.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s