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The Olympic Swindle

I've spent half a century writing for radio and print (mostly print). I hope to still be tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

the Olympic circles at sunset

the Olympic circles at sunset

The Olympics and Debt

Montreal hosted the Summer Olympics in 1976. When the city was awarded the games, its mayor, Jean Drapeau, boasted, “The Montreal Olympics can no more have a deficit than a man can have a baby.”

However, one of those two impossibilities became possible, and it wasn’t until 2006 that the citizens of Montreal finished paying off the debt incurred by hosting the Olympic Games.

That dismal story has been repeated over and over again as governments snap at the bait dangled in front of them by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Corruption Inc.

The group that decides where the Olympic Games will be held doesn’t pass the sniff test.

British investigative reporter Andrew Jennings calls the IOC "a nest of vipers." He knows whereof he speaks because he’s written three books exposing nefarious goings-on within the organization: The Lords of the Rings: Power, Money and Drugs in the Modern Olympics (1992); The New Lords of the Rings (1996); and The Great Olympic Swindle (2000).

He writes that long-time IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch was an unreformed fascist and member of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco’s government. Gafur Rakhimov, a top Olympic official in Uzbekistan is on the FBI’s files as a drug kingpin and leader of the Russian mafia.

Salt Lake City splashed a lot of cash around to win the 2002 Winter Olympics. Here’s Stephanie Grimes of The Las Vegas Review Journal: “Multiple members of the IOC were investigated over allegations that they took bribes in the form of direct payments, land purchase agreements, tuition assistance, political campaign donations, or charitable donations.” Ten officials were booted off the committee.

The Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported Brazilian lawyer João Havelange, an IOC member, took bribes to support Amsterdam’s failed bid to hold the 1992 Summer Games. He resigned from the IOC in 2011 after it was revealed he had taken a million-dollar bribe while a leading figure in FIFA, the world’s soccer governing body.

Lamine Diack represents Senegal on the IOC. In 1999, he was elected President of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the whiff of corruption has risen from the group. Two of Diack’s sons and family friends have landed lucrative jobs or contracts with the IAAF. Diack has also been tangled up in a bribery scandal involving soccer.

And then there’s . . . but that’s enough to paint a fairly clear picture.

Some Euro bank notes are passed between two people.

Some Euro bank notes are passed between two people.

Derelict Venues

Prior to every Olympic sports gathering, politicians and corporate boosters make extravagant promises about the wonderful venues that will be left behind.

The globe is littered with unused and expensive Olympic stadiums. Athens was the home of the XXVIII Olympiad, staged at a cost of about $10 billion.

Stephen Bloor (The Guardian) writes that “A decade after the sporting extravaganza, many of its once-gleaming Olympic venues now lie abandoned. For many Greeks who swelled with pride at the time, the Games are now a source of anger . . . ”

Thirty-six stadiums were purpose-built or renovated for the Athens Games and most of them are now derelict. One example of gigantic folly was a restaurant built to serve thousands of athletes.

In 2012, Guardian journalist Helena Smith found the building empty and crumbling. It was open only for one hour when Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis visited, and it never served a meal again.

The ski jump at Sarajevo (1984 Winter Games) is abandoned with walls built at the end of the ramps. During the civil war that tore Yugoslavia apart in the 1990s, the podium where medals were presented was put to use for executions (below).

The podium from the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics  was used for executions during the country's civil war.

The podium from the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics was used for executions during the country's civil war.

The Olympic stadium in Montreal has had large pieces of concrete falling off it, and the roof is said to be beyond repair. It has no permanent tenant and is currently in need of a $220 million renovation.

Beach volleyball, rowing and canoeing, baseball, BMX cycling, and other sports had purpose-built stadiums erected for Beijing’s 2008 Olympic extravaganza. They now sit idle and disintegrating.

Two photographers, Jon Pack and Gary Hustwit, travelled to 13 Olympic sites and found many to be falling apart and yielding to the advance of weeds and bushes. They published their images in The Olympic City in 2015.

The underused Montreal Olympic Stadium is known, without affection, as the Big Owe (referring to its enormous cost).

The underused Montreal Olympic Stadium is known, without affection, as the Big Owe (referring to its enormous cost).

When the construction and sponsorship contracts are handed out there are a lot of sticky fingers around.

The cost of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, was budgeted at $12 billion. However, with most of the invoices paid, experts agree the actual cost topped $51 billion. This makes the Sochi Games by far the most expensive Olympic event ever staged.

Russian anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny said: “Athletes are not the only people who compete in Sochi. Officials and businessmen also took part in the Games and turned them into a source of income.”

That source of income appears to have been generous, very generous indeed. A Vladimir Putin critic, Boris Nemtsov, claimed that between $20 billion and $30 billion was skimmed off the Sochi Games contracts.

Steroids and Drug Tests

Some of the competitions often look more like contests among pharmaceutical companies than athletes. Take a look at the 100-metre sprint in the Seoul Olympics in 1988.

Ben Johnson of Canada won easily, but his urine sample showed he’d been taking banned steroids. The second place finisher, Carl Lewis of the United States, who always portrayed himself sanctimoniously as Mr. Clean, was given the gold medal.

In 2003, it was revealed that Lewis, too, was running on chemicals. He had tested positive for steroid use three times during U.S. Olympic trials. The results were covered up by American team officials so that Lewis could compete in Seoul.

Olympic officials did not take Lewis’s medal away, but if they had it should have gone to third-place finisher Linford Christie of Britain. Well, no. He too failed a drug test in Seoul but argued successfully that the problem was caused by drinking ginseng tea. However, in 1999 he tested positive for steroids.

Fourth place runner Calvin Smith of the U.S., who had no history of drug use, seems to have the strongest claim to the gold medal. Only one other sprinter of the eight in that race had no failed drug tests.

Fourteen athletes, many of them weightlifters, tested positive for doping at Sydney in 2000. Four years later, the haul of cheats was 34 in Athens. In Beijing, it was 18 and London 28.

Then, along comes the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) with news of institutionalized doping among Russian athletes. According to Al Jazeera, the WADA report of December 2016 showed that “there was a systematic cover-up, which was refined at the 2012 Olympics, 2013 world athletics championships, and 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, and that more than 30 sports, including football, were involved in concealing positive doping samples.”

Russian athletes were allowed to compete in the Winter Olympics of 2022 in China. However, they had to perform under the name of the Russian Olympic Committee rather than their nation's name. That'll teach them.

Bonus Factoids

  • As tarnished as it is by corruption and cheating, the Olympic name is still fiercely defended by the IOC. If a Mom and Pop restaurant opens under the name Café Olympic, they’re going be visited by IOC lawyers. Olympic Transmission or Olympic Carpet Cleaning will get the same treatment. Anybody wanting to use the word Olympic in a business name will have to pony up millions to the IOC.
  • The Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro was the centrepiece of the Olympics in Brazil in 2016. In February 2017, The Guardian reported it has fallen into disrepair and is unused. Thieves have stolen copper wire from the walls and ceilings, windows have been smashed, nearly 8,000 seats have been torn up, and the electricity has been cut off because of unpaid bills of almost $1 million.
  • American boxer Roy Jones Jr. landed 86 punches on his opponent in the light-middleweight gold medal final at the Seoul, South Korea Olympics in 1988. The man who absorbed those hits was South Korean Pak Si-Hun who only managed to tag Jones 32 times. Jones dominated the match but the judges gave the victory to Si-Hun by a vote of 3-2. It was later revealed that South Korean officials bribed three of the judges, but the decision was not overturned.

Shut down the games


  • “Quebec’s Big Owe Stadium Debt Is over.” CBC News, December 19, 2006.
  • “The Great Olympic Swindle: Main Allegations.” The Irish Times, July 22, 2000.
  • “5 Biggest Scandals in Winter Olympic History.” Stephanie Grimes, Las Vegas Review-Journal, February 19, 2014.
  • “Meet the IOC, Ideal Candidates for a Perp Walk.” Andrew Jennings, The Nation, January 22, 2014.
  • “Abandoned Athens Olympic 2004 Venues, 10 Years on – in Pictures.” Stephen Bloor, The Guardian, August 13, 2014.
  • “Athens 2004 Olympics: what Happened after the Athletes Went Home?” Helena Smith, The Guardian, May 9, 2012.
  • “Decrepit: Four Years after Hosting the Beijing Olympics, this Is what China’s $40 Billion Investment Looks Like.” Becket Adams, The Blaze, July 13, 2012.
  • “Fifty Billion Dollar Boondoggle.” Canada and the World, September 2014.
  • “Brazil Corruption Probe Threatens Rio Olympics Preparations.” Stephen Eisenhammer, Reuters, July 31, 2015.
  • “Who Won the Dash?” Canada and the World, March 2012.
  • “WADA: Over 1,000 Russian Athletes Involved in Doping.” Al Jazeera, December 9, 2016.

© 2017 Rupert Taylor