The Olympic family is all about acronyms — FIFA, FINA, FIBA, FISA, FIS, FIG, and the rest of the international federations that control the sports in the global five-ringed circus. The one acronym the group would rather not hear from is one that was made in America: FBI.
Sixteen years ago, when the Salt Lake City bidding scandal sent shock waves all the way to the Alps, the Lords of the Rings would rather have visited Siberia than be seen in the States.
“They don’t know what a subpoena is,” Francois Carrard, the International Olympic Committee’s director general, said then. “They have to look it up in the dictionary. They think it’s something out of a ‘B’ movie. They imagine ‘The Untouchables’ coming with subpoenas and machine guns.”
No IOC members went to jail for their open-handed relationship with the Utah bidders, but president Juan Antonio Samaranch did testify before a Congressional subcommittee and was interviewed by federal investigators for more than five hours a couple of months later.
Now the US Department of Justice has waded knee-deep into another sporting scandal, this one involving FIFA, the international soccer federation, and $150 million in racketeering, fraud, and money laundering that already has produced 14 indictments with more evidently to come.
While longtime FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who has said he’ll resign possibly by year’s end, has not yet been indicted, he is said to be a target of the investigation.
Blatter also happens to be an IOC member, which comes with the job of heading one of the planet’s biggest sports, such as track and field, swimming, basketball, and skating.
His predecessor, Joao Havelange, who himself was a member for nearly half a century, resigned four years ago at 95, just days before he reportedly was going to be suspended for two years for taking $1 million in kickbacks.
If Blatter is indicted, he’d obviously have to resign from the IOC. The question is, will the Justice Department stop with soccer or will it broaden its inquiry to other federations where payoffs likely have been made over the years? And since at least 17 present or honorary IOC members are current or former federation heads, will they have a strong incentive not to vote for Boston for the 2024 Summer Games, lest they be taken into custody upon arrival at Logan?
It’s far too early to know, say several veteran consultants who deal frequently with IOC members in their role of advising bid cities.
“The international phase doesn’t begin until 2017,” observed George Hirthler, who has worked with 10 Olympic campaigns, including the last three American summer quests by Chicago, New York, and Atlanta. “You have a long period of time between now and the intense period of the campaign.”
So far, there have been no mass cancellations of reservations for October’s general assembly in Washington, D.C., of the Association of National Olympic Committees, whose gatherings are second in numbers and importance to only the annual IOC sessions.
IOC members and international federation chiefs routinely come through American cities, not unlike the “Men In Black” aliens but with better tailoring.
When the world figure skating championships are held at TD Garden next March, ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta almost certainly will be front and center, as is his custom.
The difference between the FIFA corruption probe and the Salt Lake payoff scandal is that the latter was all about the IOC and grabby members who accepted from the bidders everything from cash to tuition payments to cosmetic surgery to Las Vegas junkets. Ten of them either resigned or were forced out, and a quarter were implicated.
The soccer probe involves one sport and one IOC member.
“What’s happening in FIFA now is highly problematic for the sports world as such and it will probably get worse before it gets better,” said Lars Haue-Pedersen, managing director of the Swiss-based TSE Consulting firm. “But here, it’s related to FIFA and it’s related to football.”
But FIFA isn’t the only federation subject to influence-peddling by its bigwigs, who routinely award coveted global and regional championships to eager host cities and auction off media rights and exclusive sponsorships.
Lamine Diack, the outgoing president of the IAAF, the international track and field federation, and a former (now honorary) IOC member, was admonished in 2011 by the IOC’s ethics commission for allegedly accepting more than $40,000 from the federation’s eventual marketing firm before he was elected to the Olympic committee.
If Uncle Sam’s bloodhounds want to extend their hunt, they could make a number of IOC members skittish, since 23 of the 35 Olympic federations are based in Switzerland, 16 of them around the corner from IOC headquarters in Lausanne.
As FIFA officials recently found to their dismay, Switzerland has an extradition agreement with the US. So the vision of Eliot Ness and his G-men turning up with subpoenas might well be a reason to give the Hub a pass for 2024.
Not that the Boston 2024 brass should be fretting now.
“Many things will happen in the sports world over the next 2½ years,” mused Pedersen. “If I were the Boston people, I could not worry about that. I would keep focused on what I should do and tell my story.”