Even pop-culture films such as "Titanic" reinforce the basic, age-old notion that a captain should go down with his ship. The idea stems in part from an old-fashioned sense of honor and, more importantly, from a sense of responsibility. If the boat is sinking, the thinking goes, the person in charge must have had something to do with it, either through neglect or error.
But this sense of responsibility isn't confined to quaint maritime custom. It applies to leadership everywhere. That notion seems to be lost in today's world, which may explain why Juan Antonio Samaranch insists on clinging to a lifeboat while his scandal-ridden administration at the International Olympic Committee takes on water.To carry the metaphor further, his decision to hang on also is hindering the Salt Lake Olympics from floating free from scandal and into waters where it could be rescued. The 32-page report the IOC released last week, along with the resignations of three members and the suspensions of six others, is widely seen as a joke.
But don't take my word for it. Here is what some editorial writers around the world had to say, as compiled by the Associated Press:
-- "Mr. Samaranch's public avowals of innocence and his refusal to resign are outrageous, given that he has been running the operation like a personal fief for almost two decades." -- The Globe and Mail, Canada.
-- "This (scandal) might not have happened if Samaranch and other top Olympic officials had been more interested in keeping the Games clean than in preserving a mere image of cleanliness. Instead, they sued when British journalist Andrew Jennings in 1992 published an expose, Lord of the Rings, outlining allegations of bribery. Such active blindness is why Samaranch himself should resign." -- USA Today.
-- "The IOC has exposed itself. The organization is rotten. That is something Samaranch can't run away from." -- Verdens Gang, Norway.
-- "Juan Antonio Samaranch's dysfunctional Olympic family cannot be trusted to purge itself . . . the Swiss government, on whose soil the IOC trade, should close the organization down pending an investigation by ministers and the police." -- The Daily Telegraph, England
And, finally, this pointed statement ran in Belgium's De Standaard: "A good part of the 113 IOC members translate the slogan Altius, Citius, Fortius as 'money, free holidays, brothel visits' . . . It is clear for every person that Samaranch knew about this and allowed this to happen."
Regardless how some Utahns may have felt about the decision to bring the Olympics here in the first place, it should be clear to all by now that the worst option would be either to abandon the Games or to carry them out under a cloud of suspicion.
When you're on stage in a crowded auditorium and the only light in the place is a spotlight directed at your face, you cannot save your reputation by running off stage. The best option is to perform well.
Like it or not, the world has its attention focused here, and it will continue to focus here for the next three years. The Salt Lake Olympics do not have to remain synonymous with corruption and scandal. They do not have to remain a part of Jay Leno's monologues in 2002 when the torch is lit and the athletes of the world parade around Rice-Eccles Stadium. But they cannot be separated completely from the scandal as long as Samaranch remains in charge.
To its credit, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee understood this. By resigning as chief executive officer, Frank Joklik restored credibility to the Utah end of the equation and began shifting the focus.
But from Samaranch, all we get are reports such as this one in the Wall Street Journal:
"Did he (Samaranch) have an inkling of the corruption that has been rumored for years? 'I cannot answer,' he says, taking offense at the question. 'I am the president!'
"How will findings of wrongdoing and any subsequent disciplinary action affect IOC unity? 'We cannot go down this path of discussion,' he says with disdain."
Imagine the captain of a ship giving such answers as the waters rise.
Last weekend, Samaranch tried to save himself by tossing a few other people overboard. If he doesn't give up the fight and do the honorable thing soon, the entire Olympic movement, not to mention Salt Lake City's part in it, could be caught in the whirlpool.
Deseret News editorial page editor Jay Evensen may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org