Feb. 4. THE battle for the most powerful job in world sport might not be on the agenda. But it will dominate the first International Olympic Committee's executive board meeting of the new millennium when it begins tomorrow in Dakar, Senegal.
Reports on the progress of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake and the troubled 2004 Summer Games in Athens, along with various reports from commissions and working groups make up the official program of the
three-day meeting in this West African capital. But the hidden agenda contains one simple topic – who will replace outgoing president Juan Antonio Samaranch, who finally stands down this July after 21 years in charge.
The three top challengers will all be present at the beachside hotel booked for the meeting – marketing supremo Dick Pound, Belgian surgeon Jacques Rogge and South Korea's Kim un Yong.
None of them has yet declared his candidacy but behind the scenes campaigning is already in full flight. They have until April 10 to announce their intentions and all three are waiting until the last minute before
putting their name forward.
Hungary's IOC member Pal Schmitt revealed late last year he wanted Samaranch's job and the USA's Anita DeFrantz has already announced her intention to become the first woman, and the first person of African descent, to head the IOC. But IOC insiders don't give either Schmitt or DeFrantz a chance of victory in the race to replace the imperious Samaranch.
Already there are concerns what damage might be caused to the IOC by what some members fear will be a bitter election campaign. "The prize is massive, but if the campaign gets really nasty, I fear what damage it will do," one IOC member said recently.
His worries were futher fueled when Samaranch was asked in Lausanne if the ban on members' visits and gifts in the battle to win the right to host the 2008 Games applied to the presidential chase and the former Spanish diplomat replied: "There are no rules."
Already the Olympic circuit is awash with rumors, half-truths and conspiracy theories about the key runners as supporters bid to gain any advantage.
The multi-lingual 58-year-old Rogge is seen as the man who delivered the Sydney Games – hailed as the best ever – and as president of the European Olympic Committees has a potentially massive powerbase.
Pound, a 58 year-old Canadian lawyer, former first IOC vice-president, and a member of Canada's 1960 Olympic swim team, had a taste of the ultimate power last September when he stood is as acting president when Samaranch was forced to rush home from Sydney when his wife died. According to friends of Pound, he loved it.
Pound is credited with helping the IOC become a billion-dollar business thanks to his legal skills in the negotiations of television and marketing rights – but he has no clearly recognizable powerbase.
The 88-year-old Kim is regarded as one of the most powerful men within the IOC, despite his having been implicated in several scandals by British journalist Andrew Jennings and despite the stigma of receiving a severe warning over his involvement in the Salt Lake City scandal. A former UN delegate for South Korea, Kim has a solid powerbase and critics and supporters alike admit he is one of the few powerbrokers within the movement.
When the vote is taken by the IOC's full membership at the Session planned for Moscow – it was in the Russian capital that Samaranch took over the reigns in 1980 – a bribery trial thousands of miles away is likely to
be in full swing, giving a bitter reminder to the movement how greed and corruption nearly brought the IOC to its knees.
The US Justice department's trail of the two Salt Lake City bid leaders, Tom Welch and Dave Johnson is tentatively scheduled to begin in June and lawyers for the two have hinted that part of their defense will be to show that gift-giving and corruption was part of the IOC culture at the time.
Six members of the IOC were expelled and four others resigned in the wake of the scandal.
Whoever wins the presidential election in July is likely to face a baptism of fire but the prize is so glittering, it is a price worth paying.