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IOC Decides Gosper Did Nothing Wrong

TIMES STAFF WRITER

R. Kevan Gosper, Australia’s senior member of the International Olympic Committee, was cleared Monday by the IOC’s quasi-independent ethics commission of wrongdoing in connection with Salt Lake City’s scandal-marred winning bid for the 2002 Winter Games.

In its first major action since its creation last year at the height of the scandal, the ethics panel said Gosper had done nothing wrong when his family traveled to Utah for a skiing holiday in 1993. Gosper had thought he and his wife were paying for the trip. In fact, it was secretly underwritten in large part by Salt Lake’s 2002 bid committee.

The panel also investigated Gosper’s “official” 1995 visit to Salt Lake and found no misconduct.

Gosper, in a telephone interview Monday from IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, said the panel’s findings were “a huge relief.” He also said he hoped the results would assure skeptics that the ethics panel truly can serve as an IOC watchdog.

Critics remained unconvinced. Said John Hoberman, a University of Texas professor and Olympic movement historian: “This is not a definitive demonstration of the integrity of the ethics commission.”

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Why not?

The answer lies in the personality-driven nature of IOC business, amply demonstrated in the 20-page report--submitted by New York lawyer Martin Lipton--that led to Monday’s announcement.

Gosper is one of IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch’s closest aides. He is often mentioned as a successor to Samaranch, whose term expires in July 2001.

Salt Lake won the 2002 Games in June 1995. The leader of the bid was businessman Tom Welch.

Over the years the Gosper and Welch families have become friends.

The Gospers said they believed the relationship was genuinely grounded in friendship.

Lipton noted in the report, however, that from the perspective of Tom and Alma Welch, the “evidence suggests . . . [the] relationship with the Gospers had an important ‘business’ component as well,” meaning the cultivation of Kevan Gosper as a “friend and supporter of the Salt Lake City bid.”

In 1990, Welch sent Kevan Gosper a “Happy Birthday” letter. Judy Gosper got a similar letter in 1992. And in 1991, apparently to mark Kevan Gosper’s first day at his company’s offices in London, a Welch aide “had the NBC Sports affiliate in London send Mr. Gosper a bouquet of flowers.”

In July 1993, Welch invited the Gospers to Utah. His wife reiterated the invitation that fall.

The Gospers visited from Dec. 14-20. Judy Gosper arrived with their two children, Richard, then 9, and Sophie, then 4. Kevan Gosper had just been appointed chief commissioner of Melbourne, the equivalent of mayor, and did not make the trip.

From the outset, Kevan Gosper had made plain his intent that the trip would be “private,” and he or his wife would pay the bills--not the IOC or the Salt Lake bid committee.

On Nov. 9, Welch replied with a letter that said he understood the visit was “personal” and “all costs, including travel, are being paid by you and not by [the Salt lake bid committee].” He added that a condo had been reserved for the Gospers for $375 per night.

In truth, Lipton said in the report, the bid committee had rented a three-bedroom suite at Stag Lodge, an upscale complex at the Deer Valley ski resort outside Salt Lake, and arranged to pay for most of it.

The actual cost for the six nights: $8,126.89.

What Welch told Judy Gosper to pay: zero.

What she actually paid, after insisting: $1,650.

How she arrived at that amount remains unclear. It’s less than the rate Welch quoted the Gospers in the Nov. 9 letter. But it equals precisely the rate, $275 per night, quoted in an internal Nov. 4 Salt Lake bid memo about the Gospers’ stay.

Also unclear is why Judy Gosper’s bank in Australia made out the “international bank check” to the Salt Lake bid committee, rather than to Welch.

At any rate, Lipton concluded, the bid committee appeared to have “actively concealed” the true cost of the lodging and the Gospers paid what they thought was the true bill.

Lipton also noted that Judy Gosper insisted on paying $200 toward a ski suit. And while she accepted a ticket to attend a Billy Joel concert as well as to performances by a Salt Lake City ballet and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, “accepting these ‘benefits’ was not inappropriate” as she “believed she was visiting friends” and merely accepting their hospitality.


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