NEW YORK -- Salt Lake City is guilty of "gift creep" in getting the 2002 Winter Games but little else, according to an investigation into the bid bribery scandal ordered by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

And Salt Lake City won the bid on merit, making the excessive gift-giving unnecessary and "all the more tragic," according to a USOC report released Monday.A five-member panel headed by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell called on the USOC to keep a closer eye on future bid cities and proposed an overhaul of the International Olympic Committee.

The 100-plus pages of the special bid oversight commission did not detail Salt Lake City's wrongdoings, but concluded there was no evidence that cash and gifts were given in exchange for IOC votes.

The finding is the same as was reached by both the IOC and the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, which conducted separate investigations. The FBI and other federal agencies continue to probe allegations that bribes were paid.

The USOC report stated the Salt Lake bid and organizing committees spent as much as $7 million in cash, gifts, travel, scholarships and other gratuities since 1989 on members of the IOC, their families and others.

Mitchell labeled the expenditures "gift creep," and said what started as goodwill gestures by Salt Lake bidders evolved eventually into direct cash payments made to IOC members.

But he said Salt Lake City won the 2002 Games because it had a superior bid. "We believe this makes the actions all the more tragic," he said. "They did not need to stoop to the level of improper and inappropriate conduct."

The report faulted trustees of both the bid and the organizing committee, stating they "failed to exercise adequate oversight and, therefore, bear some responsibility for what transpired."

However, the report went on to state that the commission didn't have enough information to conclude that any individual trustee actually knew about the improper expenditures.

Governance and oversight

Mitchell said reforms to the USOC and IOC are needed because "ethical governance" has not kept pace with the growth of the Games into a big business for host cities, sponsors, athletes and Olympic organizations.

"The intense competition to host the Olympic Games, coupled with the multibillion-dollar enterprise that results from winning that competition has exposed the weaknesses in the movement's governing structure and operational controls," he said.

He said the USOC should have exercised more control over Salt Lake City's bid. When Salt Lake City was seeking the USOC nomination as America's choice for the 1998 and 2002 Winter Games, a site selection team raised concerns about gift-giving.

The team cautioned the USOC Executive Board that Salt Lake City bidders "may have stepped over the line in this area." The report stated less than $5,000 was spent, but some of the expenditures "raised an appearance of impropriety."

The report also cited the use of the USOC international assistance fund, created to help athletes from around the world, to influence the votes of IOC members.

More than $40,000 in grants from the program were provided to Sudanese track-and-field athletes even though the request did not conform to existing criteria.

Challenging the IOC

Mitchell's commission also took on the IOC, which had not been anticipated when the investigation began last December, shortly after the scandal surfaced.

But Mitchell and other members of the commission said Monday they felt they had little choice but to recommend major reforms within the IOC, including a change in how members are selected.

Currently, IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch decides who should serve on the secretive Swiss organization that counts among its members royalty as well as government and business leaders.

The commission said athletes and the public should have more representation on the IOC. "Of course accountability and democratizing procedures always make life difficult for those involved," Mitchell said.

He stopped short of calling for Samaranch to resign, however.

Little immediate response

A spokesman for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee said Monday the report is being reviewed. "We hope our cooperation with George Mitchell and his special commission has netted positive results," SLOC spokesman Frank Zang said.

The USOC will not address the report until Wednesday. A special meeting of the USOC executive board is set for Tuesday via telephone to come up with a response, which will be delivered at a press conference in Washington, D.C.

USOC executive director Dick Schultz was in New York City Monday, hoping to see a copy of the report. But he left for Washington, D.C., before it was delivered to the USOC about 9 a.m.

Schultz had a meeting scheduled with Donna Shalala, secretary of health, about Olympic issues, according to a spokesman for the USOC. He no doubt also intended to talk about a proposed Congressional inquiry into the scandal.

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Another USOC official said he'd put the concerns about the effects of the Salt Lake City crisis aside and was focused on the job of making money to pay for the Games.

"We're back selling and making sponsor presentations," John Krimsky, chief marketer for the USOC, said. Those presentations include a pitch to Cream o' Weber, which may become the official milk of the 2002 Games.

But don't expect to hear more about that or other sponsor deals anytime soon. Nobody announcing anything until after the IOC session later this month in Lausanne, Switzerland.

"That's the critical day," Krimsky said, referring to the vote expected on March 18 to expel as many as a dozen members of the IOC. Already, four have resigned after being connected to the scandal.

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