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Marc Hodler, 87; longtime Olympics official exposed scandal in siting of Salt Lake City Games

LONDON -- Marc Hodler spent nearly half his life at the heart of the Olympic movement. No one knew more about the workings of the International Olympic Committee and the high-stakes bidding for the Summer and Winter Games.

The Swiss lawyer felt it his duty to expose corruption in the host city process, setting off the biggest scandal in the history of the IOC and prompting major reforms.

Mr. Hodler, who blew the whistle on vote-buying in Salt Lake City's winning campaign for the 2002 Winter Games and other Olympic bids, died yesterday in a hospital in his hometown of Bern, Switzerland, three days after a stroke. He was 87.

Mr. Hodler had been an IOC member since 1963 and president of the international ski federation from 1951 to 1998.

He triggered the IOC's gravest crisis by detailing what he called systematic buying and selling of votes in Olympic bidding, particularly for the 2002 Winter Games.

The scandal led to an unprecedented purge of IOC members, with six delegates expelled and four resigning for receiving improper gifts or benefits. The IOC also enacted a series of reforms, including a ban on visits by members to bidding cities.

``No revolution has been possible without scandal," Hodler said at the time.

Mr. Hodler was an IOC vice president from 1993-97 and served four separate terms on the rule-making executive board. He was the first official to use the word ``bribe" to describe the methods used by Salt Lake City to win the 2002 vote.

In November 1998, a Salt Lake television station obtained a leaked document disclosing that the city's Olympic bid team had set up a scholarship fund for the relatives of IOC members.

The story remained mainly a local controversy until two weeks later when Mr. Hodler, the IOC official with oversight over the Salt Lake City Games, raised the stakes by declaring that the tuition payments amounted to bribes.

On Dec. 12, 1998, he unleashed a series of corruption allegations that shook the IOC. Mr. Hodler, in the marble lobby of the IOC's headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, held court as he was encircled by reporters.

``To my knowledge, there has always, always, been a certain part of the vote given to corruption," he said.

At one point, he took over a podium reserved for a sponsorship conference and delivered an impromptu briefing while Juan Antonio Samaranch, who was then IOC president, and other officials watched in stunned silence.

Mr. Hodler alleged that vote buying was common in the selection of Olympic host cities. He said 5 percent to 7 percent of IOC members were open to bribes, and that agents bought and sold blocs of votes for millions of dollars. He didn't name names.

Mr. Hodler said he decided to go public after a Swiss government official asked him about rumors of misconduct and wondered whether he had been bribed to keep quiet.

``I was praying that the wise, the good, the strong, and the brave have the courage to work for honesty in the Olympic movement and sports in general," he said.

The IOC set up an investigation that led to the ouster of 10 members and severe warnings for others. Mr. Hodler's principal allegations -- that agents buy and sell votes for big sums -- were never confirmed, however.

The scandal led to the resignations of Salt Lake's top two Olympic officials, Frank Joklik and Dave Johnson. Mitt Romney, a former venture capitalist and current Massachusetts governor, took over as the new organizing chief.

The scandal spread to Sydney, Nagano, Atlanta, and other cities, where bidding excesses were exposed. A year later, the IOC approved a reform package.

At the time of his death, Mr. Hodler was the second-longest serving IOC member after Brazil's Joao Havelange.

Mr. Hodler chaired the IOC commissions coordinating the Winter Games in Albertville (1992), Lillehammer (1994), Nagano (1998), and Salt Lake City.

As a lawyer, Mr. Hodler was responsible for drawing up the rules for the 1948 Winter Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Three years later, he was appointed president of the International Ski Federation, post he held for 47 years.

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