Marc Hodler, 87; Swiss Lawyer Exposed Olympic Organizers' Corruption

Special to The Times

Marc Hodler seemed an unlikely candidate to rock the world of the smug, secretive, self-appointed old boys' club the International Olympic Committee had been for a century.

Hodler was a courtly Swiss lawyer, a passionate bridge player and an octogenarian then in his fourth decade as a member of the IOC club.

Yet Hodler's stunning assertions nearly seven years ago about the unsavory relationships between IOC members and cities bidding to host the Olympics ignited a scandal that threatened the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and created a crisis that forced a shaken IOC into sweeping institutional, operational and management reforms.

Hodler, who died Wednesday at 87 in a Bern, Switzerland, hospital, after having suffered a stroke, was an IOC member for 43 years, president of the International Ski Federation for 47 years and, in 1980, a reluctant candidate and runner-up when Juan Antonio Samaranch was first elected IOC president.

"What Marc said was a surprise and a shock and history-making," Swiss lawyer Francois Carrard, the IOC's director general during the Salt Lake crisis, said Wednesday. "The fact that he spoke as an elder statesman and someone who didn't often draw attention to himself caught the attention of the Olympic movement."

Ten IOC members would be expelled or forced to resign. The top two officials of Salt Lake's Olympic Organizing Committee resigned. Congress held hearings on Olympic bid abuses. The Justice Department opened a criminal investigation. The U.S. Olympic Committee was found negligent in its oversight -- and even encouragement -- of Salt Lake City's activities.

Hodler's statements so angered many longtime IOC members, including then-president Samaranch, that less than a year later they took revenge in the vote that allowed Turin, Italy, to defeat favored Sion, Switzerland, as host city of the 2006 Winter Olympics.

"As far as him blowing the whistle in a very loud way, Marc did what had to be done," Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said Wednesday.

After the fallout, Romney became chief executive of what were an enormously successful Salt Lake Olympics. "There was a mess in the Olympic house, and someone finally pointed it out. Some people were mad at Marc for speaking so forcefully, but nothing would have happened without people like him who told the truth."

It wasn't the only time Hodler took such a stand. In 1972, when IOC President Avery Brundage declared Austrian skier Karl Schranz ineligible for the Winter Olympics because he had violated rules about amateurism, Hodler supported Schranz, to no avail. Brundage tried to have Hodler removed from the IOC, also to no avail.

What became the Salt Lake City bid scandal might have been seen only as third-rate corruption had Hodler not publicly described it as bribery and alleged such rampant vote-buying had gone on in the IOC for years.

"President Samaranch sensed trouble and already had ordered an investigation," Carrard said. "As to the direction and dimension it took, certainly the [Hodler] outburst had a multiplying effect. Without his outburst, maybe it could have died."

Even after Salt Lake City officials admitted they had given $400,000 in college scholarships to the children of IOC members in an obvious attempt to buy votes, the scandal seemed destined to remain a local affair.

That changed Dec. 12, 1998, when Hodler commandeered a podium in the lobby of IOC headquarters at Lausanne, Switzerland, where media attracted by the whiff of scandal had been expecting a sponsorship press conference.

Startling his listeners, Hodler said 5% to 7% of IOC members had solicited bribes for their votes; alleged one IOC member had been an agent for such bribes; and said there had been corruption in the successful bid campaigns of Summer Olympic cities Atlanta (1996) and Sydney (2000) and of Winter host Nagano (1998) as well as Salt Lake City.

Evidence surfaced to support nearly all Hodler's claims, although members were censured only from the investigation into Salt Lake's dealings with the IOC.

In an interview with USA Today three days after making his allegations, Hodler said, "The prestige, the honor of the Olympic committee is at stake. I don't care about the members."

A native of Bern, Hodler is survived by his wife, Anna Rosa, and sons Beat and Martin.

Philip Hersh covers the Olympics for The Times and Chicago Tribune.

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