Remember that publicity shot from the Usual Suspects with Kevin Spacey in the lineup? The photo above is an update, snapped late last year in the boardroom of the International Olympic Committee, in a marble palace on the banks of Lake Geneva. This lineup has thirteen men, most past middle age, in business suits and ties, and two women—the big cheeses expecting the best seats in Sochi. Dead center is the new IOC president, Germany’s Thomas Bach. We’ll come back to him, but for now, know that Bach, 60, was a protégé of Horst Dassler, the German businessman who bribed more sports officials than most of us ever heard of. Dassler’s family owned Adidas and a marketing company that laid out $100 million in kickbacks to acquire TV and marketing rights to the soccer World Cup, the world track and field championships—and the Olympics.
At Bach’s right shoulder is the Swiss boss of world soccer, Sepp Blatter. For decades, Blatter didn’t notice hefty bribes being trousered by his colleagues in return for giving World Cup contracts to Dassler companies. Accused of handling a $1 million bribe intended for Joao Havelange, former president of FIFA (the international soccer federation) and doyen of the IOC, Blatter hired investigators who reported that there was a misunderstanding and that he was no more than “clumsy.”
Havelange resigned in disgrace from the IOC in December 2011. Blatter survived—despite losing eight of FIFA’s twenty-three executive committee members to scandals in the past three years. An FBI-organized crime squad, now digging into FIFA’s embedded corruption, has a cooperating witness in Miami and probably another in New York. Blatter, scheduled to be played by Tim Roth on the big screen later this year, might not make it to Sochi.
At Bach’s other shoulder is Lamine Diack from Senegal, president of the IAAF (the International Association of Athletics Federations) and also on the Dassler gift list. I disclosed these bribes for the BBC program Panorama in 2010, and a year later the IOC rebuked Diack. But the Lords of Lausanne forgive and forget, so he’s back at the heart of Olympic idealism.
Looming over the diminutive Blatter, smiling broadly, dark curls tumbling around his shoulders, is Sheik Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, kingmaker for Thomas Bach. Fahad is the 50-year-old stripling of the group, a past chair of OPEC, a Kuwaiti royal and by far the richest. Committee members seemed unconcerned by a 2008 US embassy cable, disclosed by WikiLeaks, saying he was “widely perceived as being corrupt.”
Next in line and another attentive supporter of the sheik is Patrick Hickey, 68, who has risen from an unremarkable background in north Dublin, his reputation guarded by a sharp-tongued lawyer. In private correspondence in 1991 with one of the bribe payers on the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics bidding committee, Hickey revealed that some IOC members were selling their votes for $100,000 to rival wannabe Olympic hosts from Nagano. At the time, he was gunning for membership in the IOC, but said nothing to its officials. It has done him no harm that he never snitched.
Hickey gets cozy with people many of us wouldn’t invite home to meet our loved ones. Seeking a wealthy patron in Europe to pay for a regional Olympics to mirror the Pan-American Games and not finding any takers among reputable leaders, Hickey turned to the president of the national Olympic committee of Belarus, whose day job is being Europe’s last dictator. Ignoring Belarus’s unenviable doping record, Hickey presented the thuggish Alexander Lukashenko with a plaque commending his “Outstanding Contribution to the Olympic Movement.” But Lukashenko is broke, so Hickey pursued the oil-rich president of the Azerbaijan Olympic Committee, another head of state. A noted kleptomaniac and jailer of reporters, Ilham Aliyev has reportedly offered millions to fund the event in 2015.