“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. Now this is where the Asset Forfeiture Program should be used. If you are going to weaponize the administrative state and by weaponize I mean using the various entities to terrorize our citizens; have them terrorize entities like this.

  2. Remember, Rio beat out Chicago for these games. I wonder if there would have been any corruption if Chicago got the 2016 games? Realize, that’s why the pompous Obama is not attending. He pushed hard for Chicago and lost. He is a girly, loser. Just like his new buddy, the woman beating, French Canadian PM of Canada.

  3. Breaking news, Rio Swim or Sink Dopers:

    China BEIJING — Swimming officials from Australia and China have dived into the fray as a feud over doping between swimmers Mack Horton and Sun Yang boils over at the Rio Olympics.

    The Chinese Swimming Association on Monday asked Horton to apologize for his “inappropriate words” after he labeled Sun a “drug cheat” .

  4. “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.”

    This is also the argument against government bloat. Such creep creates vast, impenetrable, unaccountable government agencies and officials that hold too much power, are insulated from voters and the people, and pay themselves to live like kings.

    Because this is human nature. Absolute power corrupts, absolutely. That is true in a church/mosque, government, dictatorship, or sporting ruling body.

    Only by keeping powers very limited, valuing individual human rights more than the collective, and maintaining accountability can this be prevented.

  5. Hey, it’s the 21st century so of course human nature has changed, right? Stories like this remind me of Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown. Lucy is the IOC and Charlie Brown is everyone outside of the IOC bureaucracy.

    There is a fine line between a constitutionally-limited government and an all-powerful administrative state. Actually this fine line goes for any body empowered to represent and act on behalf of others. If this body is NOT expected to abuse their power, then no amount of checks and balances will be able to prevent corruption.

  6. The Olympics are no longer a quadrennial, amateur athletic event. The Olympics have become a nationalistic and advertising showcase for sponsors and there is a definite undercurrent of jingoism from all nations involved. Once the current commitments are completed, the Olympic “movement” should be stopped, There are already national and world championships in virtually every sport, even those which are not contested in the Olympics. The Olympics have become a virtual ATM for nations and sporting organizations, world-wide. The level of corruption belies the supposed “honesty” of “competition”.

  7. I’ll say it again: Permanent home for the summer Olympic Games in Greece. Back to amateur status for athletes. No more overpaid professional prima donnas. Now, where to permanently site the Winter Games? A Nordic country? Somewhere with reliably decent snow – although that may be harder than it should be, these days . . .

  8. Well-written article. Perhaps the bottom fell out when amateur status was no longer a requirement of participation in the Olympics, and income became the superseding priority for everyone.

    1. Steve – you would have to go back to when the Russians were playing their amateur/professionals, which is why the rules were changed. And during the original Olympics, a winner made a boodle of money from their city.

  9. Add: unless the distances are changed to 50, 100, 150, 200, 250…..meters.

  10. And “fastest” is a joke too. Take four identical swimmers and ask them to compete simultaneously in 100 meter freestyle, fly, breaststroke, and backstroke. The freestyle swimmer will always win. Why are all four styles still used? Because the loss of revenue from spectator tickets and advertising would be catastrophic if only freestyle races were held.

  11. What illustrates the problems with doping, perhaps the most, is that an athlete can test positive, be suspended, and then re-enter the system and compete. Steroids help develop the body, albeit dangerously and illegally. So, an athlete can develop and become, through the use of steroids, the ‘winner’, knock it off for a while and then go on to legitimately wind medals.

    The rule should be that if an athlete is ever found to be using illegal substances, in their life, they are out for good. When a person shows promise in their early years they attract attention. It would not be that difficult to test athletes years before they enter the arena. The purity of the games has long been lost with professional athletes participating, bogus events like air rifles and flopping around in the pool. It seems to be getting more and more ridiculous. It is starting to approach the level of American political carnivals. Carnival in Rio and carnival in the US. There is not much difference.

  12. Olympic Sports “Faster, Higher, Stronger” Doping:

    Found a tune for this thread. When the truth is found, “Somebody To Love”. Jefferson Airplane.
    Warning. Don’t watch & drive with this video playing. 6.7 million views.

  13. Since organizations such as the NFL have demonstrated that it is difficult to get what you want at the national level it is probably impossible to expect perfection at the international level. The Olympic Games have become the perfect sports image of our societies almost everywhere: corruption and negligence. The real rot began with Berlin 1936 when, among others, our Mr. Brundage declared pompously that the Nazi’s were not anti-Semitic. He eventually accepted a single and token Jewish fencer on the Nazi team for the participation of the US team ignoring big worldwide protests. Add egomaniacs to the Olympic problems.

  14. It is that obama family right. Somehow this will fit into the story. I just wanna be first to bring it up. With Trump we won’t hold the Olympics in the U.S. I am personally sick of athletics and so called sports events. Just the other day there was a game on tv between the friggin Mets and Yankees. New York New York. Then A Rob was in the news yesterday. Russian dopers. Pot smokers. Blind will be blind.

  15. “Corruption and Negligence” seem to be prerequisites to running for president these days.

  16. They used to have obstacle swimming. You had to swim over and under obstacles. Sounds like they brought it back.

  17. Well, on the bright side, I read today where one of the rowers hit a submerged couch! Oh, ROTFLMAO! Maybe they need to add Obstacle Rowing to the slate when they have the Olympics in one of these 3rd world places? Anyway, I could care less about the Olympics, except maybe for Anna Vissi who opened one up, and this is one of my favorite songs, and videos. Which according to this, her real name is Avva Bloon, which sounds Swedish maybe, or Icelandic??? No wonder she changed it! Anyway:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4_z4wiilVk

    But as far as the doping, isn’t winning the only thing that matters anymore???

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

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