- Tarnished Rings: The International Olympic Committee and the Salt Lake City Bid Scandal by Stephen Wenn, Robert Barney, and Scott Martyn
Few scholars have done more than Stephen Wenn, Robert Barney, and Scott Martyn to reveal the economic and political evolution of modern international sport. Their 2002 award-winning Selling the Five Rings remains the seminal work on the spectacular commercial expansion by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) over the last half century. With Tarnished Rings, this triumvirate turns their eye to the Salt Lake City Bid Scandal—one of the most infamous episodes of bureaucratic and personal corruption in recent Olympic history. The result is an exemplary work that sheds fresh light on the complex relationship between sport and globalization.
Wenn, Barney, and Martyn examine the bid scandal under a relatively straightforward chronological format. After providing a useful introduction and a preliminary chapter devoted to IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch’s managerial background, they trace the committee’s early reaction to reports of fraud—ones that alleged that the Salt Lake City Bid Committee had plied IOC delegates with cash and other benefits in return for their vote as to who would host the 2002 winter Games. This is followed with a compelling account of the resulting firestorm of media and governmental scrutiny into the Olympic games bidding process. This scrutiny, according to the book, in turn applied a level of pressure that ultimately compelled the IOC to expel several committee members and to enact a multitude of internal reforms. These steps allowed Samaranch and his leadership team to ward off additional governmental intervention into the matter and to re-secure the IOC’s lucrative relationship with corporate sponsors whose support might easily have wavered. In the end, Wenn, Barney, and Martyn judge the IOC’s legacy regarding the affair as mixed. On the one hand, the episode revealed decades of managerial [End Page 191] negligence by the committee in terms of a long-term tolerance of a bidding process vulnerable to corruption. Then again, once news of the scandal actually broke, the committee reacted effectively.
These assessments are supported by an impressive array of primary evidence. Included among these are archival records from both the personal papers of Richard Pound and the International Olympic Committee Library and Archives in Lausanne, Switzerland. In addition, Wenn, Barney, and Martyn were able to contextualize their documentary findings with insights gleaned from interviews with several key actors. At a stylistic level, readers will happily find that the solid research that went into Tarnished Rings is complemented by prose that is both lively and precise. The text, moreover, is notably strong at the human level; particularly memorable are its biographical renderings of Samaranch, IOC Vice President Richard Pound (who headed the committee’s internal investigation of the scandal), and David D’Allessandro, president and CEO of John Hancock, a leading corporate sponsor of the Olympic movement.
Some might nitpick about the absence of a strong theoretical underpinning to the book. Or a post-modernist might remark that Wenn, Barney, and Martyn have engaged in a naive attempt to reconstruct a “true” version of the past. In the opinion of this reviewer, however, those who take such positions risk committing an injustice. Wenn, Barney, and Martyn have produced a fine piece of scholarship—one that is soundly researched and engagingly articulated, and one which concerns an overlooked subject of considerable importance. Sports administrators and academicians alike would do well to consult Tarnished Rings. It provides a model for conducting historical scholarship in a way that has the potential to actually exert a positive influence on “the real world.” The book, in short, is a welcome addition to the scholarly literature on international sport. [End Page 192]