An Aussie Bull in a China Shop
The middle-aged Parisian lawyer made his way through the celebration and shook the hand of Sydney Olympic bid leader Rod McGeoch.
“I don’t know how you did that,” he said.
It was Sept. 23, 1993, the day Sydney won the right to host the 2000 Summer Olympics. The lawyer, Samuel Pisar--legal counsel to International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch--was not the only one puzzled by Sydney’s surprise selection.
Days before the vote in Monte Carlo, London bookmakers had made Beijing the favorite to win the event. China had never hosted the Olympic Games, and many within the IOC were eager to spread the Olympic message to the world’s most populous country.
On decision day, Beijing led through three rounds of secret balloting, with other contenders--Berlin; Istanbul, Turkey; and Manchester, England--being eliminated one by one. Finally, on the fourth and final ballot, Sydney outpolled Beijing, 45 to 43--a stunning victory that triggered the festivities in Monte Carlo and an even bigger party Down Under.
Beijing complained, and blamed the loss on “non-sports factors.” Now, in the wake of the bribery scandal surrounding Salt Lake City’s winning bid for the 2002 Winter Games, the obscure allegation is providing a link to a broadening story.
It is a tale of over-the-top ambition: how a country simply refused to lose the bidding game for a third consecutive time.
It turned out that Sydney’s strategy included job assistance to relatives of IOC members, excessive hospitality and gift-giving, and an offer of financial aid to two African nations on the eve of the vote.
At this point, there is no chance the Games will be moved from Sydney. But how Sydney won is proving to be the win-at-all-costs model of modern Olympic campaigns. And unlike other recent efforts to secure Olympic Games for a city, the Sydney campaign has been well documented.
Many details of the Salt Lake City bid are still under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. Complete records have not been released in Atlanta, host of the 1996 Summer Games, despite rising pressures. And organizers of the Nagano, Japan, 1998 Winter Games, concerned about “embarrassing” IOC members, burned their records.
But earlier this year, Australian Olympics Minister Michael Knight of the ruling Labor Party asked for an independent examination of Sydney’s bid records.
Report Shows Rules Were Skirted
The resulting Sheridan Report--issued in March by the former auditor-general of South Australia, Tom Sheridan--found that bid officials bent, skirted and, at times, breached IOC guidelines. According to the report, the Sydney bid committee helped relatives of IOC members find employment, provided trips to Grand Slam tennis events in Europe and gave gifts in excess of the $200 limit, among other things. The total dollar value of gifts purchased was put at $251,629.
Earlier, bid leader McGeoch, perhaps inspired by lawyer Pisar’s comment, laid out the motivation of Australian Olympic officials in a book called “The Bid.” He noted that Brisbane fell short in the 1986 voting for the 1992 Games, finishing third. Melbourne was fourth four years later in its bid for the 1996 Games. This time, Sydney bid officials dealt with every obstacle, every threat, real and imagined.
Two and a half years of posturing, polling and cajoling would come down to one day--and a secret vote.
Manchester had built IOC connections by bidding for the 1996 Games. Berlin, well financed, could make a strong emotional appeal about hosting the Games under the umbrella of reunification. Beijing’s powerful appeal was economic. Sydney needed an edge if it wanted to avoid a third shutout.
According to the Sheridan Report, the backstage efforts to win the Olympics began early on. In 1991 and 1992, the Sydney bid committee suddenly became active on behalf of a struggling young Romanian couple, Dana and Nick Voinov, who wanted to emigrate to Australia.
Correspondence in the bid files quoted Australian IOC member Phil Coles as saying a favorable decision concerning the couple was crucial to obtaining the support of the Romanian delegate for Sydney’s Olympic bid. Romanian IOC member Alexandru Siperco, who died in 1998, was the father of Dana Voinov.
Nick Voinov needed to have an Australian job lined up. Bruce Baird, then Australia’s transportation minister and a high-ranking member of the bid committee, began making contacts on behalf of the Voinovs.
Nick Voinov subsequently was hired by CityRail, a division of the state railroad, even though it had no authorized position for his “specific qualifications,” according to the report. Baird was notified of the hire in a letter from a State Rail Group general manager. Peter Hudson, former State Rail Authority human resources manager, said he felt pressured to make the hire.
Sheridan viewed the assistance to Voinov and three other relatives of IOC members as a breach of guidelines. Baird, who previously has denied any impropriety, declined to be interviewed for this story.
The committee soon launched what Baird called a “high level of duchessing”--an Australian term for lavishing attentions upon a dignitary to curry favor.
In 1992, Mongolian IOC member Shagdarjav Magvan was taken to the West Plains Zoo in Dubbo, New South Wales, home to 24 Przewalski horses, nearly extinct in Mongolia.
Eventually, five horses from that zoo and two more from the zoo in Adelaide were shipped via charter planes to Ulan Bator, the Mongolian capital. The project eventually cost $156,453--the bid company contributed $13,037. The Australian government and New South Wales Zoological Parks Board paid the rest. It was a win-win move: a meritorious act that had the “potential to assist in securing the vote of Mr. Magvan,” the Sheridan Report said.
As the vote drew near, Sydney bid officials began to make better use of Coles, who has been on the International Olympic Committee since 1982. Coles, a former Australian Olympian and five-time national surf lifesaving champion, could speak the language of the members, because he was a member.
Bid Officials Send Lobbyist to Paris
The bid group--recognizing the high concentration of IOC members in Europe--was at a decided disadvantage in far-flung Australia. Competing bidding teams from Berlin and Manchester were short hops away from many of the IOC members. Sydney bid officials decided to base Coles and his companion, Patricia Rosenbrock, in Paris for the final four months of the bid.
In June 1993, Coles invited IOC member Niels Holst-Sorensen of Denmark and his wife to the French Open tennis final. Air travel and other expenses were paid for by the bid company, according to the Sheridan Report.
Files showed a “high degree of activity” by the Paris lobby team, and costs relating to the project were about $104,302. Sheridan concluded that the strategy resulted in acts “designed to contravene the spirit of the guideline that limits visits to IOC members.”
Coles and Rosenbrock compiled information on the likes and dislikes of IOC members, according to documents released by Knight, the Australian Olympics minister. The resulting dossiers ended up in the hands of bid officials from Salt Lake City, an occurrence that has drawn the attention of IOC investigators.
Despite progress in lining up votes, the Sydney group was deeply worried about the strength of bid rival Beijing. McGeoch said he and others on the committee decided to launch an ambitious, covert effort to derail the Chinese. The idea was to use a London-based public relations firm to create a group that would attack the Chinese record on human rights and denounce the Beijing bid.
The Australian government, fearing an international relations disaster, became alarmed, and McGeoch was stopped by the bid committee’s board of directors before the campaign was launched.
Thoughts of losing by one or two votes were running through the head of Australian Olympic Committee President John Coates on the eve of the vote.
Bid officials became especially worried when they “got tips” that Joao Havelange of Brazil, then head of soccer’s international governing body, was pushing Latin American and African members to vote for Beijing.
So Coates played his last card. He made $35,000 offers to African officials from Kenya and Uganda--assistance to their respective national Olympic committees--on the night before the vote, contingent on a Sydney victory.
Later, Coates was unrepentant. After disclosing during interviews this year what he had done, he said he “wasn’t going to die wondering why we didn’t win.”
Coates acted without the clearance of the bid committee’s board of directors. Sheridan noted that the entire cost of the Sydney financial aid program to several African countries over several years amounted to $1.3 million--but said the program was not a breach of IOC guidelines because the “arrangements did not involve the giving of benefits to the IOC members.” In February of this year, the IOC cleared the Sydney bid of wrongdoing, without interviewing officials in Kenya or Uganda.
In an interview, Coates was asked if he was relieved. That, he said, was beside the point. The point was that “we volunteered this. There’s nothing new. What I have been upset about is misreporting that has been going on that indicated we made cash offers and cash payments to certain IOC members, which was never the case. We directly offered [it] to their national Olympic committees.”
That is not how one influential corporate sponsor of the Olympics saw it. David F. D’Alessandro, president and chief operations officer of John Hancock Financial Services in Boston, wrote a column that appeared in Australian newspapers earlier this year, charging that the Australians won their bid with bribery.
“According to the dictionary, [bribery] is: ‘The act of influencing the action of others by corrupt inducement.’ And the behavior of the Sydney bid committee appears to fit this definition pretty well,” he wrote.
As it turns out, some of Sydney’s hardest campaigners will be on the sidelines when the Games begin. Baird and McGeoch both left the Sydney Olympic Games Organizing Committee well before questions arose about the bidding process.
Coles found himself implicated in the Salt Lake City scandal--charged with taking lavish vacations to the U.S. at the expense of the Utah capital’s bid committee. He stepped down from the Australian Olympic Committee but remains a member of the IOC, having escaped ouster with a “most serious of warnings,” one step removed from expulsion.
Recently, Coles hit more trouble, when his former wife said she received expensive jewelry in 1990 from a businessman connected with Athens’ failed 1996 Olympic bid.
D’Alessandro has called on Coles to resign from the IOC. If he does go, Coates, the architect of the last-minute African duchessing campaign, is regarded as his likely successor.
Times staff writer Mike Penner contributed to this report.
Go beyond the scoreboard
Get the latest on L.A.'s teams in the daily Sports Report newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.