Mitchell to Olympics Committee: Heal Thyself

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Elder statesman at large George Mitchell weighed in today on the International Olympics Committee's woes, issuing a strongly worded call for reform to end what he called a "culture of gift-giving." His main prescription: Open up to outside scrutiny. The IOC should end life tenure for its members, the former Maine senator told reporters today, and its books should be opened for regular financial audits. And, he said, bidding cities should stop doling out the goodies to visiting IOC members, a practice at the heart of the million-dollar bribery scandal surrounding the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Mitchell's findings come under the auspices of a five-member panel appointed by the U.S. Olympic Committee last December in the wake of the Salt Lake mess. Though Mitchell's group focused solely on Salt Lake's wooing of the 2002 Winter Games, the recommendations are broad, aimed primarily at the IOC. Will they be heard? "This is really the first shot in a war," notes TIME L.A. bureau chief Cathy Booth. "It seemed like the IOC had been let off the hook, but Mitchell's report sends a signal that the U.S. will push hard for structural reforms." Whether IOC officials will heed the call may be made clear at its special assembly March 17 and 18.