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IOC OKs Age Limits, Term Limits

December 11, 1999 GMT

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) _ The International Olympic Committee on Saturday approved _ with surprising ease _ new rules on age limits and terms of office, central elements of a reform package designed to restructure the organization and prevent further corruption scandals.

IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch opened the assembly by urging the members to set aside personal interests and approve the 50 recommendations to help restore the 105-year-old organization’s credibility and prestige following the Olympic bribery scandal.

In a stunning display of unity on one of the most controversial issues, the 93 delegates voted unanimously to give up their lifetime terms and approve the introduction of an eight-year term of office. After eight years, the members can seek re-election by their peers.

Many members had been expected to resist _ or at least raise questions about _ the new terms, but not a single objection was raised from the floor.

The assembly also approved a new election procedure for members, including the creation of a selection panel to screen candidates.

The lowering of the age limit from 80 to 70 _ which will apply to new members only _ provoked the most debate but still passed with only eight votes against. Existing members can still serve until the age of 80.

The delegates also approved the introduction of a 12-year term limit for IOC presidents _ one eight-year term and the possibility of a second term of four years.

Among the other 12 reforms enacted in the morning session:

_ The IOC will have a maximum of 115 members _ 15 active athletes, 15 presidents of international federations, 15 presidents of national Olympic committees or continental associations, and 70 individual members.

_ The executive board will be expanded from 11 to 15 members.

``It’s too early to claim victory, but things are going very well,″ Samaranch said.

The most contentious issue _ whether to ban member visits to bid cities _ is scheduled to be debated at the end of the session Sunday.

But the quick approval of structural reforms was as a major triumph for Samaranch, who had put his leadership on the line by asking the members to curtail some of their perks and privileges.

``We gave him a vote of confidence of 86-2 nine months ago,″ Israeli member Alex Gilady said. ``That means we must follow the route that he and the IOC 2000 (reform commission) believe we should go. Otherwise, we would make a mockery of ourselves.″

IOC vice president Kevan Gosper said: ``Some members don’t like the medicine but you take it because (Samaranch) is the leader with a proven track record.″

Prof. John MacAloon, an Olympic historian at the University of Chicago and an outside member of the reform panel, said the changes were unprecedented.

``In terms of institutional reform, there has not been a single day like this in the history of the IOC,″ he said.

The reforms were prompted by the bribery scandal that erupted a year ago surrounding Salt Lake City’s winning bid for the 2002 Winter Games. Ten IOC members were expelled or forced to resign for their conduct in the affair.

In the opening speeches, no one mentioned Salt Lake by name, referring only to the ``crisis″ or ``events.″

``This crisis has affected many of you,″ Samaranch said. ``You have faced harsh criticism, very often unfair. You have gone through undeserved suffering and pain. Myself, as president, I have suffered to. We have all suffered.

``But, believe me, there is no alternative. We had to work very hard to solve this crisis. And now we are very close to succeeding.″

``These are reasonable reforms,″ he said. ``The people of the world are watching. We can’t disappoint them.″

Samaranch cited the ``positive side″ of the scandal which allowed the IOC to make changes it might never have undertaken otherwise.

``These reforms will allow us to enter the new millennium stronger, more modern, more democratic, more transparent, more accountable and more responsible,″ he said.

Samaranch said the proposed ban on visits did not suggest the IOC doesn’t trust its members.

``It’s about protecting members from the pressure of bid cities,″ he said.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who served as an outside member of the IOC 2000 commission which drafted the reforms, said the panel would have made the same proposals whether the scandal had occurred or not.

``None of our recommendations were animated by any sort of sitting in judgment about what has happened in the past,″ he said. ``We would have made essentially the same recommendations. Whether or not there were shortcomings in the conduct of some members is not relevant.″

Kissinger said it was ``imperative″ for the members to approve the reforms to restore credibility in the organization.

``I am convinced that failure to proceed along these lines would create a crisis of public confidence which sooner or later, and sooner rather than later, would bring us together again facing the same sort of challenge,″ he said.