Australian Olympic Executive Cleared

Monday, May 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Australian Olympic executive Kevan Gosper was cleared of any wrongdoing today in connection with the Salt Lake City bid scandal.

The International Olympic Committee's ethics commission ruled Gosper had not violated rules by allowing his family to take a ski holiday in Utah in 1993, a trip arranged by Salt Lake bid officials.

Gosper, fighting back tears, said he telephoned his wife with the news.

``The sun is shining for me and my family,'' he said. ``I'm hugely relieved. I don't think I've ever felt such a sense of release and relief. ... I feel (the ruling) has put the Gosper family integrity back on track. Now it's time to get my focus back on the Sydney Olympic Games.''

The Salt Lake verdict came with Gosper still reeling from the dispute involving the torch relay for the Sydney Games. The IOC vice president was widely condemned in Australia for what appeared to be a case of blatant favoritism in his role in the Australian leg of the relay.

The ethics panel examined accusations that Gosper had accepted excessive travel and hospitality from leaders of Salt Lake's winning bid for the 2002 Winter Games. His official trip to Salt Lake in 1995 was also investigated.

``After reviewing the relevant evidence, I decided that Mr. and Mrs. Gosper's accounts of what transpired in 1993 and 1995 were truthful and were confirmed by documentary evidence,'' ethics panel investigator Martin Lipton said in his report.

``I found that there is no basis to conclude that the Gospers either knowingly or negligently violated IOC rules.''

``My conclusion is to fully exonerate Mr. Gosper,'' Lipton said at a news conference. ``I think Mr. Gosper did nothing wrong and I think the situation has been blown all out of proportion. ... I think the Gospers acted in a very normal manner.''

The ethics inquiry centered on a trip that Gosper's wife, Judy, and two children made to the Deer Valley ski resort outside Salt Lake in December 1993.

Salt Lake records showed bidders filed expenses of about $11,000 for the Gosper family's trip. But Gosper said he insisted on paying for the vacation and described Salt Lake's expense claims as fraudulently inflated.

Salt Lake documents showed Gosper thought he was paying all the expenses, but bid officials were quietly paying part of the costs and filing two separate sets of invoices. But the files did not include any record that the Gospers actually made any payment.

Gosper provided the ethics panel with a copy of a check made out by his wife, Judy, for payment of the accommodation at Deer Valley's Stag Lodge.

The ethics panel report said the check was for $1,650. The actual cost of the accommodation for the Dec. 14-20 stay was $8,126.

``The Gospers reimbursed what they understood to be the cost of accommodations,'' the ethics report said.

Lipton said the Gospers took ``reasonable actions to avoid receiving service or gifts from the Salt Lake City bid officials that violated the IOC rules.''

Regarding any gifts or services provided to Mrs. Gosper that may have violated the rules, Lipton said they resulted from ``deliberate concealment by Salt Lake City bid officials.''

Lipton said he sought to question three Salt Lake bid officials — former bid chief Tom Welch and deputies Dave Johnson and Rod Hamson — but his requests were turned down by their lawyers.

Lipton said he believed interviews with the three would not have changed his conclusions anyway.

The case, which had been in the hands of the ethics commission for four months, was seen as an important test of the panel's resolve to investigate allegations rather than just draw up policy.

The eight-member panel, made up of a majority of non-IOC members, was set up in the wake of last year's scandal over cash payments, college scholarships, lavish gifts and other inducements given to IOC members and their families during Salt Lake's bid.

Gosper, a founding member of the ethics commission, resigned from the panel in March.

Lipton was appointed by the commission to carry out an independent inquiry. Lipton, chairman of the board of trustees at New York University, said he was not paid for his services, expecting only to be reimbursed for his expenses.

Gosper apologized Friday for allowing his daughter, Sophie, to be the first Australian to run with the Olympic torch at last week's flame lighting ceremony in Greece. The honor had been expected to go to Yianna Souleles, a 16-year-old Australian student of Greek heritage.

Gosper offered to forgo his own leg of the relay in Melbourne — his home city where he won a silver medal in the 1,600-meter relay at the 1956 Olympics — and give the spot to Souleles. Souleles' school, St. Spyridon College, rejected the offer.

Sydney organizers said Monday that Gosper had been dropped from all duties related to the torch relay. But Olympics Minister Michael Knight later said Gosper would still take part in ceremonies greeting the flame when it arrives in Guam and Australia.

Ethics commission chairman Keba Mbaye said today the panel would not take up the torch relay issue because Gosper had already apologized for his ``lapse of judgment.''

``This was a personal issue which had nothing to do with the International Olympic Committee as a whole,'' Mbaye said.

The Salt Lake and torch relay controversies have hurt Gosper's Olympic ambitions. He has long been considered among the contenders to succeed IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, who completes his final term in July 2001.

``I've lived with controversy before,'' Gosper said. ``I'll find my way through it. Storms come and go.''