IOC rules out inquiry into Pound's racist remarks

IOC rules out inquiry into Pound's remarks

Globe and Mail, October 23, 2008

VANCOUVER and MONTREAL — Calling the matter “finished,” the International Olympic Committee says it won't pursue an inquiry into remarks by high-profile Olympic official Dick Pound that outraged native groups.

Mr. Pound, former vice-president of the IOC, sparked a complaint after describing Canada as a “land of savages” when Europeans arrived 400 years ago.

René Fasel, chairman of the IOC commission overseeing the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, noted that Mr. Pound had apologized, and said he was certain Mr. Pound had had “absolutely no intention of hurting anyone” with his comments.

André Dudemaine, director of the Montreal-based native advocacy group that complained that Mr. Pound's remarks were racist, said it was “shameful” that the IOC wouldn't investigate the complaint, and added that his group would consider pursuing the matter through other avenues.

At a news conference in Vancouver yesterday, Mr. Fasel said the IOC's ethics commission investigated the complaint about Mr. Pound's use of the word sauvages, but determined, after speaking to him, that the whole thing was a misunderstanding.

As a result, the commission decided not to proceed further with the complaint, Mr. Fasel said. Asked whether that was the end of the matter as far as the IOC is concerned, he replied: “It's finished. Yes.”

Mr. Pound, a member of the board of the 2010 Olympics, met with criticism after comments made during the Beijing Olympics in August, reported in a Montreal newspaper. Speaking in French, he defended the staging of the Olympics in China despite that country's human-rights record.

“We must not forget that 400 years ago, Canada was a land of savages, with scarcely 10,000 inhabitants of European descent, while in China, we're talking about a 5,000-year-old civilization,” he said.

In interviews with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Pound insisted the term sauvages carries a different meaning in French and English, and that he was using language of the era he was describing.

“I thought that in doing a 400-year-old picture, you use 400-year-old words,” he said. “If that hurts somebody today, I had no intention of doing that.”

“I used the term that was regularly used there by the Jesuits, in the Relations and all the other published material, ‘ les sauvages,' ” he said. “There was no intention of making any racist comments. But you know, as well as I know, what was going on here 400 years ago.”

He said he hoped to move forward.

“The first nations people are trying to regroup from a long period of what has been decline,” he said.

Mr. Dudemaine, of the aboriginal group LandInSights, said yesterday he considered Mr. Pound's apology insincere.

“There isn't a Jesuit today who would use such terms, or give him absolution either.”

The term sauvages, while once used to refer to natives, has fallen into disuse in Quebec for several decades.

The province still has more than a dozen rivers, streams, routes and mountains with names such as Lac aux Sauvages, but several have been changed in recent years.

With a report from Joe Friesen in Toronto