tarnished rings

Reviewed by Krystal Beamon, The University of Texas at Arlington

2 February 2012       archive

As an All-American track and field athlete, I spent much of my life aspiring to be an Olympian. I have watched every event of every Olympiad in awe and admiration, beginning with the 1984 summer games at which my hero, Carl Lewis, began his Olympic reign. Due to the commercialization of the Olympic Games, Olympians now capitalize on their success through endorsements deals, public appearances, marketing campaigns, and all the perks of being international heroes. These opportunities were not without a price. It was the vision of Juan Antonio Samaranch to take advantage of the growing globalization of multinational corporations and their desire to market goods and services to a worldwide audience that made this possible for the athletes. However, the scandal and corruption that inevitably grew alongside the Olympic movement's financial evolution almost led to its destruction.

Tarnished Rings is an intriguing and detailed account of how the modern Olympic movement burgeoned under leadership of Juan Antonio Samaranch. More importantly, it paints a compelling picture of the manner in which the true spirit of the Olympics reigned triumphant through the disgrace uncovered during the Salt Lake City bidding scandal. By gaining access to the key players, documents, and accounts of the scandal the authors paint a captivating description of the events that should give this book an important position in study of Olympic history.

In acknowledgement of his importance to the development of the modern Olympic movement, the authors begin with a biographical sketch of the International Olympic Committee's most prolific president of over two decades, Juan Antonio Samaranch. His influence and position in Olympic history is a common theme throughout the book. On July 16, 1980, Samaranch was named president of the IOC and took the reigns over a tumultuous and deteriorating Olympic movement. He saw three distinct needs: 1) pursue financial autonomy 2) confront the threat of political boycotts and 3) repair the IOC's relationships with the International Sports Federations and National Olympic Committees. Samaranch was able to capitalize on growing global wealth and corporate globalism to secure corporate capital, accomplishing the financial goals that he had set for the organization. Television fees and corporate sponsorship now make the Olympic Games a multibillion dollar affair.

As the Olympic Games grew in profitability, so did the greed of the members of its organizing bodies. The authors give a meticulous report of how these circumstances came to be. In late November of 1998, a Vancouver reporter uncovered a document suggesting that the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee had given tuition assistance to the daughter of IOC member Rene' Essomba. This began a media frenzy and lead to Samaranch's construction of an Ad Hoc Commission lead by Canadian, Richard Pound, who found "damning" evidence early in the investigation. The flood gates opened during an executive board meeting at which board member Marc Hodler made damaging assertions concerning IOC members exchanging votes on behalf of bidding host cities for payments.

Wenn, Barney and Martyn describe the ensuing melee that culminated at the 108th IOC session, at which time Samaranch made a painful decision to place six IOC members before the organization for expulsion. The author's account of the session was so vivid I felt as if I was in the room. The six committee members each approached the microphone one by one giving their version of the events. Arroyo (Ecuador) justified the financial support of SLCOC president Tom Welch given to both his stepdaughter and his wife. Others like Gadir (Sudan), Ganga (the Republic of the Congo), and Keita asked the committee overlook outrageous amounts of cash, gifts, medical treatment, and other financial support given to them by groups directly associated with the SLCOC. In the end, the six hour long meeting concluded with the results that Samaranch needed to restore the tarnished image of the IOC. All six members were expelled and Samaranch received an overwhelming vote of confidence from IOC members to lead the organization out of this scandal. The Holder Rules were established to monitor the activities of bidding cities and IOC members closely. Although Samaranch did eventually end up testifying before Congress concerning this and other bidding scandals, in Samaranch's eyes the IOC had "kept its word" (p.122).

In the end, for Olympic aficionadas like me, Tarnished Rings, is a story of Olympic triumph. The 2002 Winter Olympic Games was the first of the new millennium. For fans, athletes, and the great people of Salt Lake City, the scandal only strengthen their resolve to demonstrate the true spirit of the games. Although his career was riddled with this scandal, Samaranch took the Olympics to new heights. Under his leadership the Olympic brand became an international institution, women gained increased opportunity and visibility as Olympians, and the "hypocrisy of amateurism" (p.12) was discarded. As an academic and researcher, I can also appreciate the painstaking dedication of the authors to uncover the information necessary to give such a thorough and comprehensive account of the events.

Tarnished Rings is a page turner complete with scandal, suspense, excitement, and eventually triumph and a must read for sport and Olympic historians.

Wenn, Stephen; Barney, Robert; and Martyn, Scott. 2011. Tarnished Rings: The International Olympic Committee and the Salt Lake City Bid Scandal. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Copyright © 2012 by Krystal Beamon

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