Last weekend’s meeting in New York of 80 former Olympians and advocates from 15 countries was, in the words of renowned sports historian John Hoberman, “an event unique in sports history”: the first time a group of Olympic athletes had ever gathered together for the explicit purpose of reforming the scandal-racked International Olympic Committee and revolutionizing the governance of sport. But on June 11-13, the group met in the shadow of the United Nations building to hammer out a consensus that aims to do just that.
By the end of three intense days of passionate debate, the group had endorsed the formation and mission of OATH–Olympians and Advocates Together Honourably.
Former U.S. Senate majority leader George Mitchell, who chaired the Special Commission that investigated the Salt lake City bribery scandal, gave a big boost to the advocacy group in his keynote address. Mitchell called on athletes to use their media clout to clean up the doping scandals that have rocked the credibility of the Olympic Games and other major sporting events (such as the Tour de France) and to force true reform in the governance of sport. “There’s no one who’s got a greater ability to go to the press and public and get support in their countries than Olympic athletes themselves,” he said.
The Senate Commerce Commission is considering economic sanctions against the IOC if it does not make the changes recommended by Mitchell’s commission. The U.S. Olympic Committee immediately made the changes the commission recommended while, thus far, the IOC has failed to act. However, “to be fair,” Mitchell said, “what we recommended to the U.S. Olympic Committee was like ‘take two aspirin and go to bed’; what we recommended to the IOC was brain surgery.”
Among the legendary Olympic gold medalists attending were Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser; U.S. triple jumper Willie Banks; Norwegian speed skater Johan Olav Koss; and American swimmer John Naber. Other Olympic stars participating included Zola Budd (South Africa), Lynn Davies (Great Britain), Grace Jackson (Jamaica), Peter Carruthers (USA) and Canada’s Mark Tewksbury, who founded the group.
Unable to attend but sending their support were Mark Spitz, Bruce Jenner and Nadia Comaneci and Bart Conner, the latter three via a video-taped message.