Osaka all smiles for sports meeting


OSAKA — Overseas visitors to a major international conference here in October will be greeted by young women shoving drinks into their hands and smiling old male bureaucrats distributing promotional literature.

This gathering, a meeting of the General Association of International Sports Federations, has become the year’s most important event for Osaka.

And it may be the only chance the city will have to wine and dine influential sports officials between now and September 2001, when the International Olympic Committee selects the host city for the 2008 Olympics.

The Monaco-based GAISF is headed by Kim Un Yong, an IOC member nearly expelled earlier this year for his role in the Salt Lake City bribery scandal. It consists of nearly 90 different international sports federations from volleyball to tae kwon do.

Under new regulations adopted after the scandal, in which 10 members resigned or were expelled, IOC members were banned from visiting candidate cities for the 2006 Winter Games, won by Turin, Italy. The IOC has also said it does not want 2008 candidate cities to begin overseas promotion until February 2000, after new guidelines are drawn up.

These decisions have thrown Osaka’s Olympic plans into turmoil and officials are uncertain as to how to proceed.

Unable to gain admission to the main hall and forbidden to promote their bid, city bureaucrats turned down an invitation by Kim to attend last week’s IOC meeting in Seoul. The decision was in line with Japan Olympic Committee officials’ advice that it would be a good idea not to attend.

But officials from Beijing, another candidate for the 2008 Games, were there, much to the surprise of both Osaka politicians and bureaucrats.

At a meeting of the Osaka Olympic Bid Promotion Committee on Monday, Olympic officials and Mayor Takafumi Isomura faced questions about not going to Seoul by angry politicians worried that a major chance to meet IOC members had been lost.

Several bureaucrats on the Osaka Olympic committee tried to reassure the politicians by noting that the GAISF meeting will be a good opportunity to promote the bid.

Many events are scheduled for the GAISF Osaka meetings, including a welcoming reception featuring the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra. The city will also pick up the tab for GAISF members staying at a luxury hotel.

Politicians noted that many GAISF members are also members of the IOC, and welcomed the chance to show them Osaka’s sports facilities. But officials warned that, because of the bribery scandal, it remains unclear whether most IOC members would be allowed to attend.

“The IOC has just begun debate on what kind of policy to set regarding attendance (at the GAISF meeting) at its general assembly meeting. In addition, we’re not sure what kind of promotional activities we can conduct if IOC members are present.” said Kenichi Niinobe, a city Olympic official.

According to a spokesman for Kim, about 30 of the 90 GAISF members are IOC members. Most have never visited Osaka before, but many have previously visited other bid cities for 2008, including Beijing.

Senior IOC member Anita DeFranz said in Seoul that it might be a good idea for IOC members to skip the GAISF meeting. The GAISF had no comment on the remarks.

Should the IOC continue to ban visits to 2008 bid cities, the October meeting will be the only chance Osaka has to appeal directly to influential IOC officials.

As a result, those who do make the trip to Osaka are likely to be treated well by a host city that has, in the wake of the IOC scandal and the surrounding confusion, suddenly become a very anxious host.