IOC Pays High Price To Look Good: Part 1 of 2

By A. Craig Copetas

PARIS, FRANCE – Whatever the outcome of the vote on how to reform the International Olympic Committee, one thing is already clear: The scandal has cost the Olympic Games a packet of money.

So far this year, the IOC has spent at least $1.75 million on a Hill & Knowlton-led public-relations campaign aimed at salvaging the reputation of President Juan Antonio Samaranch and other IOC officials. In addition, the Olympic family has lost unspecified amounts of money in withdrawn or renegotiated corporate sponsorships, according to internal IOC documents obtained by this newspaper.

The amount of money involved angers many IOC members and Olympic athletes, who charge that Mr. Samaranch has no mandate to spend Olympic funds on a campaign that they say is principally designed to polish the tarnished prestige of the IOC president and his closest associates.

“It boggles the mi nd that Samaranch would spend millions on a public-relations company when we have thousands of Olympic athletes who would do that kind of work for free – and thousands more would-be Olympians in dire need of financial support,” says Mark Tewksbury, an Olympic swimming medalist and vice-chairman of the athlete’s lobbying group, Olympic Athletes Together in Harmony. “Samaranch remains a big part of the IOC’s problem.”

Norwegian IOC member Gerhard Heiberg, who directed the 1994 Winter Games in Lilliehammer, says the athletes have reason to be upset. “I wasn’t told about this expenditure, and as an IOC member I should have been told – especially at a time when Samaranch wants to make the IOC more open and transparent,” says Mr. Heiberg, a partner at management consulting firm Norscan Partners AS. “I don’t understand why they would need to spend this money, but I intend to find out.”

For the first six months of this year, the IOC confirms that it paid Hill & Knowlton $1.3 million for organizing the public-relations campaign. In June, the IOC says, the contract with the American public-relations giant was extended on a monthly basis at the rate of $75,000 a month.

In addition, an IOC internal memo dating back to March recommends that the committee should set up “a special budget of between $2.5 million and $5 million” to fund “direct-paid advertising.” The goal: to repair the IOC’s image, which has “taken a significant hit,” the memo says.

IOC spokesman Franklin Servan-Schreiber says he isn’t certain how much of that budget has been approved or spent. But he confirms the payments to Hill & Knowlton and says that this expenditure was necessary because the organization didn’t have the resources to manage the avalanche of media attention that the scandal generated between January and May. The IOC also needed American advice on how to handle the appearances of IOC members before the U.S. Congress, he says.

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