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Just like in 'The Sopranos'

Posted: Friday, May 18, 2001

Mayor Richard J. Daley, the legendary political boss of Chicago, once answered charges about steering millions in city business to one of his sons this way: ''How are you supposed to be able to do favors for other people's kids,'' Daley said, ''if you can't do any for your own?''

On Thursday, aging Olympics boss Juan Antonio Samaranch did one of his own a favor. He nominated his son, 41-year-old Juan Antonio Jr., for membership in the International Olympic Committee.

The best thing to be said for the move is it's one more indication the elder Samaranch, still two months shy of his 81st birthday, is abandoning his campaign to become dictator-for-life. Otherwise, it's a disaster.

The process is something right out of ''The Sopranos.'' The vote, by secret ballot July 16 in Moscow, is already guaranteed. Junior is in.

This sort of thing, like the serial-bribetaking and pleasure-tripping that flourished during the elder Samaranch's 21 years in office, was supposed to be over. The scandal that erupted over vote-buying by Salt Lake City organizers was supposed to usher in a wave of reform.

Included among them was having the IOC set up a special nominations commission to screen candidates for membership, replacing a time when they were essentially hand-picked by the president. Someone is going to have to explain to the rest of us how things have changed.

''This is Samaranch's last gasp of nepotism, which has characterized his entire reign,'' said Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican whose commerce committee has oversight of U.S. Olympic Committee.

But you think Samaranch and his cronies are worried how this looks?

Think again.

A half-dozen years ago, the mandatory retirement for IOC president was 75. Right about the time someone toted up the candles on Samaranch's birthday cake, a show of hands was called for and the mandatory retirement age was pushed back to 80.

Two years ago, Samaranch was hauled before McCain's committee and told American sponsorship backing for the Olympics would dry up in a hurry without some real progress toward making the movement's leadership open and accountable. His response was creating a task called ''IOC 2000.''

The first version called for two dozen panel members, nearly all of them drawn from outside the organization. The final makeup was 80 members, more than half of them IOC members. The three most important committees -- the bid process, administration and mission -- were headed by loyalists.

IOC members voice dissent as often as they bother to inquire about bargain rates on hotels or airfares. Nearly 80 percent of the committee owes their appointments to the imperious Spaniard, and his most powerful underlings have so much invested trying to reach the front of the line of succession that they wouldn't recognize real reform if it came along. Throwing Samaranch's kid into the mix only raises the ante to please the old man.

Canadian Richard Pound and Australian Kevan Gosper, both members of the executive board, as well as American IOC member Anita DeFrantz, have all been mentioned as possible heirs. All of them talk tough about cleaning house -- until talk is aimed at the executive suite.

''He's certainly not the first son of an IOC member to become a member,'' Pound said.

Anticipating that might not keep critics at bay, Pound didn't bother to try more. ''If it wasn't that,'' he said, ''it would be something else.''

Once known for her candor, DeFrantz has become more careful as she moved up through the ranks. She said she's known Samaranch's son since he was a teen-age intern and volunteer driver at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

''He is someone who is known to the world of sport, he is a member of a federation, he is being proposed as an individual member in a country,'' she noted, ''where there was no one else nominated.''

What a coincidence.

The only unqualified endorsement came from Marc Hodler, the longtime Samaranch lieutenant whose loose lips led to the investigation of the Salt Lake City bid.

''He's very good-looking,'' Hodler said. ''He might be the boy to attract more ladies in the IOC.''

So he's got that much going for him -- which is nice. And OK, maybe we're being too harsh.

Maybe Thursday was bring-your-son-to-work day at the IOC and maybe Samaranch simply brought his and proposed to leave him there.

For life.

Jim Litke is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org



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