Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ain't misbehavin' (just asking questions)

A tanned, yet tense, John Furlong addressed the Vancouver Board of Trade on Feb. 11, the eve of the first anniversary of the 2010 Winter Olympics' opening in Vancouver. It was the first major event in Vancouver of his book tour to promote his memoir, Patriot Hearts.

Furlong's credibility was under attack after revelations by CBC's Fifth Estate that he knew there were serious doubts about safety at the Whistler Sliding Centre in March 2009. Less than a year later, the opening day of the Vancouver Games was marred by the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili near the end of a training run.

After his speech at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, Furlong spoke with media. I had to ask him about a key passage in his book where he mentions a secret deal with then Mayor of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov before the International Olympic Committee's 2010 host city election in 2003. Vancouver would share notes with and give Russians bidding for the 2012 Summer Games a tutorial. In exchange, Vancouver would get the six or seven Russian votes.

National Public Radio's Howard Berkes was intrigued. He wrote a story that indicates the Furlong/Storey/Luzhkov deal may constitute a breach of the IOC's own Code of Ethics, which says:

"No candidate may enter into any promise or undertaking to be performed, whatever the timing of such performance, for the direct or indirect benefit of a member, a group of members, an organization or a region."

I asked Furlong for his reaction:

“The Mayor of Moscow is not an IOC member, you can talk to anybody but IOC members, that's what we did."

He also denied there was a "promise".

“We agreed to assist each other and the Mayor of Moscow, in return for us giving a hand to help us organize a bid, he told us he would try to influence them helping us. Plain and simple, happens all the time.”

Storey lost a bid for a fifth four-year term with FIBT in a September meeting at Lake Placid, N.Y. Italy's Ivo Ferriani edged the Ottawa-based Storey by two votes for the presidency. Luzhkov, coincidentally, was fired by Russian president Dmitry Medvedev two weeks later.

I also was curious about Furlong's relationship with Catherine Bachand, his former executive assistant.

The book is dedicated "To Catherine and the Canadian spirit."

There is a glowing acknowledgement to her on the final page.

"This book, just like the Games, was a walk on thin ice for me. A thousand times along the way I might have given up. I am grateful beyond words that I did not and am thankful for the support, encouragement, compassion, love, deep loyalty and inspiration of my dearest friend Catherine Bachand -- demonstrated in a thousand ways. Hers is a patriot heart. Thank you so much!"

Twice-married Furlong, who is intensely private, made no other mention of Bachand anywhere else in the book and he did not wish to discuss their relationship, which he insists is a friendship.

Mackin: "The book is dedicated to Catherine and you thank her at the end, but don't mention her in the actual text. I just wonder why?"

Furlong: "I wrote the book, it was my choice. She was my best friend..."

Mackin: "Was there any issue among the board or management about your friendship with her. Was there ever any push-back?

Furlong: "Stop it. She was my best friend. Behave yourself, I've answered you. Behave yourself."

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