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IOC votes to keep ban on visits to Olympic bid cities
MEXICO CITY -- The International Olympic Committee on Thursday overwhelmingly upheld the ban on member visits to bid cities, the major reform enacted following the Salt Lake City scandal.
Only six out of the 118 IOC members attending the meeting voted in favor of reinstating the trips.
The result marked a major victory for IOC president Jacques Rogge, who had campaigned against bringing back the visits.
The ban was implemented in 1999 as part of a package of reforms adopted after the Salt Lake scandal. Ten members resigned or were expelled for receiving cash, scholarships and other inducements from Salt Lake bidders.
In a spirited debate on the first day of a two-day general assembly, 15 members spoke in favor of retaining the ban, while only four called for the visits to be reinstated.
While several members complained that the ban was an insult to their dignity, the majority said visits were costly and unnecessary, and that bringing them back would only damage the IOC's public image.
"It was the visit process that nearly brought us down in 1999," IOC vice president Kevan Gosper told the assembly. "In one wrong decision, we could unstitch the entire process of rebuilding our reputation worldwide. I urge you not to step back into the past -- the past that nearly killed us."
The no-visits rule will remain in place for the bid campaign for the 2012 Summer Olympics. New York City is the only officially declared candidate so far, but several European cities are expected to enter. The IOC will select the host city in 2005.
Also Thursday, the IOC said the threat of terrorism had prompted the organization to increase its financial reserves and consider taking out insurance to cover the risk of disruption or cancellation of an Olympics.
On Friday, the IOC delegates will vote on a proposal to drop baseball, softball and modern pentathlon from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Members say they expect the sports will survive.
Rogge led off the debate on the bid-city visits by insisting that the ban should not be viewed as an attack on the members' integrity.
"There is nothing wrong with visits if they are properly conducted," he said. "If we have a ban on visits, that is absolutely not because you should be suspected.
"We consider everyone in this room as being perfectly honest. We had a difficult period. The people who misbehaved were expelled. It's nothing to do with the dignity of the members."
Rogge also noted that it would cost $10 million to arrange visits for members to five bid cities.
"Of course, the IOC can afford it, but we feel the money would be better spent for athletes," he said.
Rogge and others argued that members get enough information from the IOC's evaluation commission, a small group which assesses bid cities, to select host cities.
IOC vice president Jim Easton of the United States said the visits were strongly associated with the scandal.
"To so quickly reject the very visible elimination of visits would send a bad message to the world," he said.
Senior Canadian member Dick Pound said most members don't visit the cities anyway.
"We would exhibit the dignity that everybody feels and expects by our decision to decline visits that are of marginal value," he said.
Thomas Bach, an IOC vice president from Germany, told members they would protect their dignity by rejecting visits.
"How would you feel visiting a bid city today and being watched with suspicion by everybody?" he said.
American member Anita DeFrantz noted that there were no visits from 1896 to 1986.
"We did not need visits before, and they're really not very useful," she said. "We are here to serve the Olympic movement, not to be served."
After the debate, Rogge asked for a show of hands from those opposed to the ban. Only six did so.
Pound said he doesn't expect the issue will come up again during Rogge's tenure. Rogge was elected to an eight-year term in 2001, with the possibility of a second four-year mandate.
"Let's put a stake through the heart of it, so it goes away," Pound said. "I think it's dead for the time being."
In one concession, Rogge pushed through a new provision allowing members to visit bid cities for professional or family reasons. However, they are prohibited from making contact with bid officials.
Earlier Thursday, Rogge said the organization had reserves of $140 million and needed an extra $52 million in case the games are called off or are "badly organized."
The next Olympics are in 2004 in Athens, where organizers have a $600 million security budget.
The contingency funds are contained in a Swiss-based foundation created by the IOC in 1992 to ensure the Olympics can survive in the event of cancellation.
IOC finance director Thierry Sprunger said a recent internal study found the organization would need $192 million to continue operating for four years if the Olympics are called off. The IOC expects to obtain the remaining $52 million by the end of 2004, he said.
The IOC also is studying the possibility of taking out insurance, but Rogge acknowledged the difficulty.
"The international political situation and the danger of terrorism means the insurance market is reticent against taking this kind of risks," he said.
The IOC did not have insurance coverage for February's Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, which became particularly relevant after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Had those games been canceled, the IOC would not have been covered for the loss of its multimillion-dollar TV contracts.