LAUSANNE, Switzerland — IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch said today he will come to Utah for the 2002 Winter Games, even though he called the Salt Lake bid scandal one of the worst moments of his 21-year tenure.
Samaranch spoke about his presidency for more than a half-hour with a small group of reporters from American, French, Japanese and British newspapers and press agencies, including the Deseret News.
"I will be very pleased to be in Salt Lake," the 80-year-old Spaniard told the group seated around a table in a private office atop the Olympic Museum on the shores of Lake Geneva.
Samaranch expects to be named an honorary president after he steps down at the IOC session in Moscow this July. His role at the Salt Lake Games will be to sit beside his replacement at the opening and closing ceremonies in Rice-Eccles Stadium.
He stopped short of saying he regretted the IOC's 1995 decision to give the Games to Salt Lake City in light of the bribery allegations that surfaced three years later and have led to federal criminal charges against two former bid leaders.
"I cannot go so far. What I regret, really regret, is what happened in Salt Lake City," Samaranch said. Next to the Soviet Union's boycott of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, he said the "months and weeks we suffered during the Salt Lake City problem" were the worst of his presidency.
He blamed the scandal on visits made by IOC members. Such visits to cities bidding to host an Olympic Games were banned under the reforms adopted by the IOC in 1999.
"Without visits, there would be no scandal," Samaranch said. But one of the five candidates vying to replace him, Un Yong Kim, is calling for the visits to be reinstated.
Kim, whose son faces felony charges in connection with a job arranged for him by Salt Lake bidders, wants the IOC to pay for members and their spouses to travel to bidding cities. Previously, bid cities paid for such visits.
"I am sad," Samaranch said when asked about the proposal to reinstate the visits. "Only maybe 50 percent of the members were visiting the bidding cities with their wives, with their children. . . . It was a disaster, because many of them, they did not have technical expertise."
When IOC members choose from among the five cities competing for the 2008 Summer Games in Moscow, they will have to rely on the work of an evaluation commission made up of such experts.
Samaranch said he doesn't believe there's enough support among IOC members to lift the prohibition against bid-city visits. "I don't think the great majority of the members are for the visits," he said, suggesting the idea of reinstating them could be little more than a campaign promise.
"You know what happens with an election. . . . You are promising many things. Remember in Spain, that one candidate went to a city, he was delivering a speech and said, 'If I win you will have bridge.' The people said, 'Well, we will have a bridge but we have not a river.' "
The IOC, he said, did react quickly to allegations that members had accepted more than $1 million in cash, gifts, trips and scholarships from Salt Lake bidders. Ten IOC members were forced to resign or were expelled, and another 10 were sanctioned by their peers.
"After more than two years, nothing new, nothing new has come to light. Maybe we work very quick, but maybe the others work very slow," Samaranch said, an apparent reference to the U.S. Department of Justice investigation.
The trial of former bid leaders Tom Welch and Dave Johnson on charges of fraud, conspiracy and racketeering is scheduled to begin July 16. It happens to be the same day the IOC will choose a new president in Moscow.
The full membership of the IOC is scheduled to meet in Salt Lake City before the Games begin on Feb. 8. However, some members have already said they don't want to come, in part because they fear being swept up in the aftermath of the federal case.
Samaranch, though, said he expects at least 125 of what will then be 130 members to attend the session and the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Games. After that, though, nearly half could head home, something he said, "is normal in the Winter Games."
During the scandal, Samaranch told a French newspaper that he no longer enjoyed coming to work at the nearby lakefront chateau that serves as IOC headquarters. Instead, he said then, he preferred leaving his office.
These days, he said, "I am happy to open the door. But every time I open the door, I am thinking that is nearly the last time."