IOC Panel Checks on Salt Lake Games

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Salt Lake City, UT, Feb. 29 (AP by Paul Foy)--A 19-member International Olympic Committee panel returned to inspect Salt Lake City's readiness for the 2002 Winter Games without concern about being called by the FBI to explain the bribery scandal.

Swiss lawyer Marc Hodler, the IOC member who in 1998 blew the whistle on the biggest scandal in Olympic history, said Justice Department investigators have not asked to speak to members of the IOC while they are on U.S. soil.

Many IOC members already have been interviewed in the 14-month criminal investigation, including Holder, who was ``never afraid of talking to the FBI.''

``I look forward to it being concluded,'' Anita DeFrantz, America's highest ranking IOC official, said of the federal grand jury probe.

DeFrantz was dragged into the scandal two weeks ago with revelations she accepted an 18-karat gold necklace during an official trip to Japan in 1990. She insisted it was a ``personal gift'' that ``had nothing to do'' with the successful Japanese bid for the 1998 Winter Games. The questions have had no apparent effect on her IOC status. The Los Angeles resident said she has not been interviewed by the Justice Department.

``They certainly know where I am,'' DeFrantz said.

Hodler expressed no regrets about being the first IOC official in December 1998 to lambaste Salt Lake City's $1.2-million program of scholarships, travel, medical care and cash as ``bribes'' designed to buy IOC members' votes.

``For years, I knew something was happening but I couldn't prove it,'' said Hodler, emphasizing that ``the whole subject of misbehavior and reforms'' is behind the IOC.

``It established rules for candidate cities that reduced the cost of Olympic applications,'' Hodler said.

Bidders no longer have to bestow gifts or excessive hospitality on IOC members, who are now forbidden from visiting bidding cities.

Hodler heads the IOC Coordination Commission for the Salt Lake Games, a panel that last visited in May 1999. This four-day visit is the panel's fifth since Salt Lake City won the games in 1995.

The panel has a 44-item agenda in Salt Lake City, including visits to sports venues and a review of the organizing committee's finances.

``It would be regrettable if because of budget cuts the quality of the Games would have to be cut,'' Holder said.

But Hodler said it appeared Salt Lake City will be able to hold the best Winter Games in Olympic history. He was confident organizers can fill a budget gap he pegged at well under $100 million for the $1.3 billion games.

``I think we all agree we shall cover this amount to have a balanced budget,'' Hodler said.

Salt Lake City will host the busiest Winter Games in history with 78 sporting events, 10 more than Nagano's, which had a budget twice as large as Salt Lake's.

Women bobsledders will join the Olympics for the first time at the Utah Games. Also new will be men's and women's skeleton _ a headfirst plunge on a small sled down an ice chute at 70 mph. Men's and women's cross-country ski sprints will be added, and there will be more biathlon and speed skating competitions.

Copyright (c) 2000 The Associated Press