A growing scandal involving accusations from a senior International Olympic Committee member that bribes have been used to secure blocks of votes in selecting Olympic sites the past 10 years drew denials in some circles Sunday, but IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch reacted harshly.
Samaranch, here for an IOC meeting, said the accusations would be considered by a special panel looking into alleged rules violations by the Salt Lake group that won the 2002 Winter Games.
"If it is necessary, we will expel members if this commission feels these members are guilty," Samaranch said. "After we get the recommendations of the panel, we will take the necessary measures."
IOC Vice President Dick Pound said the inquiry could be expanded to include charges that the selection of at least three other Olympic cities had been affected by corruption--Atlanta; Nagano, Japan, and Sydney, Australia.
"One is never sure where the trail will lead," Pound said. "At this moment, the focus is on Salt Lake."
Samaranch said he was surprised by the accusations made on Saturday by Marc Hodler, an 80-year-old Swiss lawyer who has been an IOC member since 1963. Samaranch said Hodler should have brought his allegations first to the IOC executive board, but Samaranch expressed his respect for Hodler and ruled out the possibility of expelling him.
Hodler had said that he thought four agents--including one IOC member--had been involved in vote-buying, and that he thought 5% to 7% of the IOC members--currently numbering 115--were open to bribery.
The Salt Lake controversy centers on a scholarship program that provided nearly $400,000 in tuition and other assistance to 13 individuals--including six relatives of IOC members, mostly from Africa.
Samaranch ruled out any possibility of stripping Salt Lake City of the 2002 Games. "No, there is not any kind of possibility," he said. "We trust the organizing committee of Salt Lake City."
Frank Joklik, president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, apologized and accepted responsibility for the scholarship flap.
"With hindsight, I believe this program should not have been part of the bid campaign," Joklik said. "At the same time, it is important to remember that Salt Lake City won the bid on the merits, and not because of this program."
It has also been disclosed that Intermountain Health Care, Utah's largest health-care provider, gave free surgical services in 1994 to at least two people associated with the IOC, one a relative of a committee member and the other possibly a committee member.
IHC has since become the primary medical provider for the 2002 Winter Games, but a spokesman said, "We did this in a sincere effort, and in the spirit of being a good community citizen."
Among Hodler's targets was Fiat tycoon Gianni Agnelli. Hodler claimed that Agnelli had given free vans to sway votes for the Italian resort of Sestriere to host the 1997 skiing World Championships. Hodler is a former head of the International Ski Federation.
The nearby Italian city of Turin has bid for the 2006 Winter Games.
The Agnelli family owns Fiat and holds major interests in hotels and real estate in Sestriere, the centerpiece of Turin's 2006 bid. The family also controls the company that runs the ski lifts and cable ways in the area west of Turin that neighbors France.
Fiat issued a statement rejecting Hodler's claims as "completely false" and threatening legal action. And Samaranch said, "We are extremely sorry if these statements have caused pain and embarrassment to the Agnelli family and Fiat."
However, Howard Peterson, former president and CEO of the U.S. ski team, corroborated Hodler's charges. Peterson said two executives--Fiat President and CEO Vittorio C. Vellano and external relations manager Angelica DiSilvestri--offered him two cars before the vote to decide the host city for the championships.
In Nagano, Japan, site of this year's Winter Olympics, Mayor Tasuku Tsukada denied Hodler's charges. South African sports chief Sam Ramsamy said there was no proof to back them up.