Sometimes things are hidden in plain sight.
And sometimes you find them deep in a publicly available document.
And sometimes they come to your attention because the keen eye of a colleague points them out, as, in this case, David Owen did for a recent blog on insidethegames.biz.
And the case in question is just another example of how International Olympic Committee members and those non-members who serve on IOC commissions live off the fat of the land.
And all these people are volunteers, ostensibly inclined to get involved with what is pretentiously called the Olympic Movement (capital “M” in IOC parlance) out of an altruistic desire to help athletes in Olympic sports.
Altruism, it turns out, has its financial rewards, shared by an ever-growing number of people, as Owen detailed.
The exact reward first came widely to light when the Associated Press reported on the grande luxe treatment of IOC members during the 2016 Rio Summer Games.
IOC members who got free lodging, free business class travel, use of a driver and most of their meals free at one reception or VIP lounge or another also received a per diem of $450. For the IOC’s 14 executive board members other than the IOC president, that was $900 per day. (The IOC euphemistically labels the per diem an "indemnity.")
Meanwhile, the 50,000 local and foreign volunteers - without whom the Rio Olympics could not have taken place - paid for their own travel and lodging, getting only cheap uniforms and some food in return.
Why should this be an issue again?
Because the optics still are just as bad as they were in Rio, especially at a time when the IOC is all but begging cities to bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics after the good folks in Switzerland and Austria have told the IOC where it can shove the idea of risking a fall into a financial abyss, no matter that the IOC pinky swears it has created a lower-cost economic model for the Games.
In an excellent series of retrospective stories about the end of the Sion, Switzerland bid, defeated after a bitter campaign in a regional referendum on government financial support for a 2026 Olympics, the Swiss newspaper Le Temps quoted an attendee at a "reconciliation party" as saying, "No one lost, no one won, but we all said, `Screw you,' to the IOC.''
Because, as former Financial Times journalist Owen noted after doing some diligent counting, there are more Grand Poobahs than ever riding the gravy train on the 20 commissions whose new composition the IOC announced Aug. 13. The new count he reported is 419 members, as compared to 355 in 2012 – an increase of more than 20 percent.
(Surprisingly still listed on an IOC commission - marketing - is former U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive Scott Blackmun, who left the USOC – and, presumably the OIympic world - in February amidst widespread criticism of the way his former organization has handled sex abuse scandals in several sports, notably gymnastics.)
And each of those IOC commission members will qualify for that lavish per diem, as well as high-end travel and deluxe accommodations, for at least one meeting per year. (Some commissions have more than one meeting.) In 2019, at least one meeting of every commission is scheduled for Jan. 14 to 20 in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Let’s do a little approximate math on just the per diems for seven days. (It likely will be paid for more than seven days, since the travel days before and after can be included for most people.)
Twenty commission chairs would get an aggregate $126,000 in per diems.
The other roughly 400 members would get $1.26 million.
The total is $1.386 million.
And that doesn’t include travel and lodging - and extra expenses in all three categories if a commission has more than one meeting a year.
Or the several meetings each year of the executive board, whose members get a $900 per diem.
Yes, even added all up, that may seem pocket change compared to the IOC revenues of $5.7 billion for the last Olympic quadrennium, 2013 through 2016.
But whatever the total, it is still money that could go to the many athletes who struggle to make ends meet.
And it adds to the clear image of the IOC as having a bloated culture of entitlement, not one of service.
And it is another red flag to the citizens of cities, states and countries who are being asked to guarantee against potentially massive financial shortfall if they become an Olympic Games host.
Please tell me why in 2018 all these commission meetings and all but one of the executive board meetings cannot be done by videoconference or conference call.
In fact, please tell me why the IOC continues to waste money on an annual meeting (called the Session) all the members are to attend, given that nearly all of what the now 96 members do at the meeting (other than schmoozing and freeloading) is to rubber-stamp decisions made by the Executive Board. (USOC chairman Larry Probst was on the right track when he said the Executive Board be the decision maker on all issues, no matter that his hand was slapped for daring to suggest the IOC slow its gravy train.)
And please tell me how anyone can justify the ludicrously high per diems.
While the USOC rightly is being questioned on many fronts, including the size of the salaries paid its top employees, at least it does not lavish any per diem on its board members when they attend meetings.
And no matter what one thinks of those USOC salaries, at least there is a public record for those of the highest-compensated employees on the tax statement the USOC must file as a U.S. non-profit. The most recent one, for 2016, shows compensation numbers for 16 employees.
The only individual details we know about IOC compensation are those for President Thomas Bach, a volunteer who gets an annual “allowance” of 225,000 Euros, which is $260,000 at the current exchange rate. (His travel and year-round lodging both on the road and in Lausanne, where he has a suite at the aptly-named Palace Hotel, are covered by the IOC.) In 2016, the year of its most recent published annual report, the IOC also spent $305,000 for Bach’s expenses and $106,000 to cover Swiss income tax expense for him.
The rationale for Bach's allowance is the IOC president’s position has become, de facto, that of a full-time chief executive since Juan Antonio Samaranch became president in 1981. So the president now gets a non-salary salary. (Wouldn’t it be better, then, to have a real CEO whose position does not depend on currying favor to be elected?)
All the rest of IOC “executive management” salaries and compensation, which cover the director general and 17 directors of other departments, are lumped into one paragraph of the IOC financial report. In 2016, that amounted to $8.7 million in salaries and $948,000 in post-employment benefits. (Divide that total by 18, and you get average compensation of $536,000, which ain't too shabby.)
In an interview with CNNMoney Switzerland last week, Bach asserted that cost issues rather than lack of trust in the IOC was the main reason for the referenda rejections of Olympic bids by citizens in several countries. That idea was borne out in a poll commissioned by the city of Calgary about the city’s potential 2026 Winter Games bid: 73 percent of those opposed to the bid chose “cost /taxes” as their reason for the opposition, with just five percent choosing “Corruption / IOC.”
But, where the sensitive subject of money is concerned, the IOC does itself no favors with the sumptuous treatment of its members. It makes them look more like grifters than like idealistic volunteers. At the current per diem rates, some of them would get more than $20,000 for three weeks of what is essentially vacation at a Calgary 2026 Winter Games.
No wonder the IOC finds the idea of hosting the Olympics a hard sell in the democratic world. It makes no difference that the IOC, not the host city, is paying the per diems.
No one is asking the IOC members to wear hair shirts. The public just doesn’t want to get fleeced, and the IOC doesn’t realize that the public now understands the IOC has dressed itself profligately in the emperor’s new clothes.