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The New Lords of the Rings: Olympic Corruption and How to Buy Gold Medals

If you’re convinced the worst problems facing the Olympics are rampant commercialism, the influx of professional athletes, and jingoistic NBC coverage of the Atlanta Games, then The New Lords of the Rings will come as a shock. Sequel to the explosive The Lords of the Rings: Power, Money and Drugs in the Modern Olympics (Stoddart, 1992), The New Lords of the Rings offers two dozen chapters jammed with documentation and analysis of wrongdoing among the plutocrats of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and other members of “the Olympic family.”

Do the Olympics belong to the peace-loving athletes of the world? Nope: The Olympic Charter states that “the Olympic Games are the exclusive property of the IOC, which owns all rights thereto.” IOC members, we learn, can serve for life or at least until age 80, depending on when they were nominated by the IOC president de l’époque (currently Juan Antonio Samaranch, scheduled to rule until the next century) and rubber-stamped by the other 105 members, only seven of whom are female. No currently-practicing athletes are IOC members; as Jennings concludes, “the reality is that athletes have no votes at the Olympic committee, no power in their own sport.”

Former Los Angeles Olympics supremo Peter Ueberroth is quoted as saying that IOC members “are not all of the highest integrity. Some are entirely principled people, and some are not.” In fact, a separate document Jennings quotes pegs the number of incorruptible IOC members at a whopping seven. Further, Jennings details how Tokyo, winner of the 1964 Olympics, plied IOC members with prostitutes, most of them “university language students.” A current IOC member, unnamed in the book but dubbed Mr. Wandering Hands, has pressured a would-be Olympic host city to provide sexual favours. Virtually all IOC members expect to be treated like heads of state and revel in lavish freebies – including cash from conveniently refundable airline tickets – showered upon them by host-city applicants, including, of course, Toronto.

The New Lords of the Rings adds yet more evidence to the airtight case made in the first book that Samaranch, far from being a humble old man pressed into reluctant service for the good of world sport, is a bully addicted to power and privilege. Worse, as Jennings documents, he’s a warmed-over fascist, an apparatchik in Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s dictatorship of Spain in the 1950s and 1960s who enthusiastically wore the blue shirt of the Falangists. Jennings writes that “the Blueshirts also controlled the Spanish Olympic Committee and in 1968 Samaranch led their team to Mexico. His official exhortation to them was pure Nuremberg: the athletes must show the world ‘we Spaniards are becoming a more virile and potent race.’”

This virile potency was by no means at odds with the true aims of the man invariably dubbed “the founder of the modern Olympics,” Baron Pierre de Coubertin, whose exclusionary conception of the Games – for men only, and only men who could afford not to work, thus avoiding the taint of professionalism – has been blithely whitewashed in Olympic opening ceremonies and other propaganda for decades.

But wait, there’s more. Did the scandal of obviously rigged boxing adjudication at the Seoul Olympics stick in your craw? A former East German spy still involved in international amateur boxing, Karl-Heinz Wehr, helpfully jotted down the amounts of Korean bribes paid to boxing officials, who then bought off individual judges with as little as $300. If the idea of official Olympic credit cards and caffeinated sugar water offends you, how about Nazi killer submarines decorated with the five rings? Around 1936, such submarines – manned, no doubt, by potent, virile Germans – patrolled the waterways of Europe.

Remember, these are the same rings whose sacred identity would later be defended at all cost, including arm-twisting the cash-strapped but genuinely amateur International Paralympic Committee, whose quadrennial games for elite disabled athletes are currently underway in Atlanta, to modify its logo of five teardrops to avoid “misuse” of the rings. A Canadian IOC member and longtime opponent of officially including disabled athletes in the Olympics, the powerful Dick Pound, joined Canadian lawyer Howard Stupp in forcing the IPC to acquiesce.

What about drugs, you ask? Jennings reveals that the Los Angeles Olympics doping lab didn’t even bother checking for testosterone or caffeine, that the L.A. lab was closed before the Games ended to reduce the number of positive tests, and that the IOC medical director, a Belgian prince with no medical qualifications, mysteriously lost a document containing the codes identifying nine unreported positive tests at the L.A. Olympics. A post-Games analysis of anonymous Seoul urine samples turned up 50 with steroid traces, including 20 who should have been disqualified. Similar testing after the Barcelona Games showed that one athlete in ten was on steroids. Virility and potency, it would seem, derive increasingly from a syringe.

If Jennings’ allegations seem too outlandish to believe, go ahead and double-check his detailed references. The only serious defect of both books is their grave need for a copy editor; Jennings coughs up half-cocked sentences that are harder to parse than a bad Japanese instruction manual. Both books need to be cleaned up, converted to a searchable, hyperlinked CD-ROM, and updated annually. The IOC enjoys legal immunity in its home country of Switzerland, a bastion of democracy that found Jennings and coauthor Vyv Simson guilty of defamation after the first volume was published. While we wait for history to repeat itself, nobody (yo, Mel Lastman! that means no-o-obody!) who dares suggest a Canadian city should host the Olympics can claim any credibility without reading – and heeding – the Lords of the Rings books. Bread, not circuses, indeed.

Originaly published circa 1996 ¶ Updated: 2009.07.30 15:38

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