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Home | Blog | Sochi Day 3: The Most Corrupt Games Ever?

Sochi Day 3: The Most Corrupt Games Ever?


The Olympics are supposed to be the epitome of fair play and honest competition. Why can’t the International Olympic Committee practice what it preaches?

The high prestige associated with securing the Games to be held in a candidate city has increased the lengths people are willing to go to secure them. This alone is not so troubling. After all, the price of something is what you are willing to give up for it. As the perceived value of the games rises we should fully expect more extreme bids in an attempt to make sure a candidate city gets its two weeks in the sun (or snow).

What is troubling about the prevalence of corruption and bribes is that it occurs by the IOC, the very committee committed to the Olympic ideals of honesty and fairness.

Prior to securing the 2002 Winter Games, Salt Lake City failed four times in its bids. On its final successful attempt, the city spent more than $16 million dollars wooing the 100 members of the IOC (70 of which were personally flown to Salt Lake). Reports of undue and even illegal bribes resulted in four separate legal investigations, one of which was by the U.S. Department of Justice. The IOC’s own personal investigation resulted in ten of its members being expelled and another 10 sanctioned. (Interestingly enough, despite admitting its guilt in this corruption scandal and sanctioning its own members, the United States DOJ did not sentence any members of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee for any wrong doing.)

The lengths the Salt Lake Olympic Committee were willing to go were a direct response to its previous failed attempts to secure the Games, widely understood as an inability to wine and dine Olympic officials as well as other candidate cities did.

A Swiss member of the IOC has now come forward with his own charges of corruption, claiming that “roughly a third of the $55 billion spent on the Sochi Olympics has disappeared due to corruption.”

Many will no doubt chalk this up to “Russian culture” and that it is a problem of the host country and not the IOC. Guess again.

Former Russian deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov has revealed that

We’ve been trying to interest the IOC in this issue for quite awhile, but to no avail… Until now there’s been no clear acknowledgement of the issue, even though the facts are widely available. The attitude is that ‘all is well’ and if there’s any corruption it’s a problem for the host country and not the IOC.

The Games are meant for the enjoyment of the world, and are predicated on the ideal that everyone deserves an equal chance to benefit from them. The only problem is that the IOC operates in a way that makes it clear that some are more equal than others.

If the allegations of corruption are correct, the IOC has chosen to have the Games in a location where over $15 billion of spending has gone into someone’s pocket without due reason.

Some may say that what is done is done, and the IOC has no control over how Russia spends money on its Games. One would think, though, that it would not award the Games to countries either as a result of corrupt practices (e.g., as was shown to be the case with Salt Lake City), or that are actively pursuing the same self-serving agenda.

Brazil has recently been hit with its own corruption scandals, this one involving the embezzlement of public funds by 33 tourism ministers including the Deputy Tourism Minister Frederico Silva da Costa. With the Rio Olympics still two years away, I am sure there is still time for more public money to be pilfered.

The Olympic Games are supposed to symbolize fair play. Why can’t the IOC set the standard by demanding that the Games’ host cities play by the same rules as everyone else?

(Originally posted at Mises Canada

David Howden is Chair of the Department of Business and Economics and professor of economics at St. Louis University's Madrid Campus, and Academic Vice President of the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada.

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