Nick Butler

I remember chatting about Adam Pengilly shortly after he became the only International Olympic Committee (IOC) member to oppose the ruling Executive Board’s response to the Russian doping scandal at the 2016 Session in Rio de Janeiro.

"He’ll have to be really careful now," I was told. "They’ll be looking for any opportunity to accuse him of wrongdoing and open ethics proceedings after this."

Now, 18 months after that conversation, Pengilly found himself flying home from the Winter Olympic Games in apparent disgrace yesterday morning at virtually the precise moment when Dom Parsons, a former team-mate he personally introduced to the sport, was winning an Olympic bronze medal in the men’s skeleton.

It was a terrible end to an eight-year tenure on the IOC Athletes’ Commission due to finish after these Games anyway. 

The 40-year-old was leaving the T3 Transport Mall close to the Intercontinental Hotel at which the Olympic Family are staying at around 9:30am on Thursday (February 15) morning. He attempted to walk on the bus rather than the pedestrian lane but was intercepted by the guard, known only as a "Mr Kim", who told him to walk the longer way around. 

Pengilly refused and an argument broke out between the two men. The Briton admits to eventually ignoring a cry of "stop" to run past him.

Details from this point on turn murky.

Mr Kim, at some stage, suffered a fall and resultant scratches and cuts. Pengilly admits to swearing at him but claims there was no physical contact. He insists he did not hear the guard either fall or cry out in any way.

South Korean reports, however, allege the Briton pushed him backwards for around 30 metres while also shouting "f*** Korea" three times. This understandably provoked fury among the host nation and a police report was filed.

A cartoon was published by broadcaster KBS purporting to show the incident ©KBS
A cartoon was published by broadcaster KBS purporting to show the incident ©KBS

CCTV footage apparently exists suggesting - but not proving - there was physical contact. It has not been released or described publicly two days on. There is also confusion over whether witnesses have emerged corroborating Pengilly’s account, as some have claimed.

Following the incident, Pengilly was called into a meeting with the IOC’s chief ethics and compliance officer, Päquerette Girard Zappelli and their head of corporate security Aldric Ludescher. IOC President Thomas Bach was also due to attend but did not because he had to present a medal.

Pengilly agreed to apologise and that it would be best for him to travel home first thing the next morning - which he did. By then, the story had broken publicly and the IOC swiftly told us they felt "extremely sorry for the incident caused by Mr Adam Pengilly". They stopped short of their usual "presumption of innocence".

The IOC does not want to fall out with the host nation. South Korean officials likely wanted to set an example after several other "culturally insensitive" moments involving athletes and officials attempting to greet locals with a hug or kiss in a way considered unsuitable here.

IOC spokesperson Mark Adams revealed today that local organisers wanted Pengilly to remain and face charges before they were persuaded otherwise. It was perhaps best, then, for him to leave while he could.

I have got to know Pengilly reasonably well over the last four years and have always found him as honest as anybody in sport, and more so than most, so had no reason to doubt him here.

He was clearly in the wrong to ignore the guard’s instructions and, as a member of the IOC Coordination Commission visiting Pyeongchang since 2011, should have known better how an incident like this can be extra-sensitive in this culture.

Then again, if the incident did happen as he described it, there would be many media and sporting officials alike who could tell a similar Olympic tale of impatiently getting frustrated with a security guard. This does not make it right but slightly more understandable.

The incident took place close to the Intercontinental Hotel in Alpensia ©Getty Images
The incident took place close to the Intercontinental Hotel in Alpensia ©Getty Images

The IOC seem to have shown a distinct lack of public willingness to find out what really happened, raising questions about their ethical consistency and double standards.  

We were repeatedly told by Adams that Pengilly was not entitled to a "presumption of innocence" because he had apologised and admitted wrongdoing. 

It did not seem to matter to him that Pengilly had owned up to only the least serious allegations and was flat-out denying those that were causing all the headlines.

Surely the IOC should be desperate to get to the bottom of an allegation that one of its members is accused of racism and violence and, if it is found to be untrue, ensure his name is cleared? Even if he did admit to acting inappropriately in other ways.

Adams claims not to have seen the CCTV footage or been told what it contains. At least one IOC official has seen it and it has been seen by many on the South Korean side. It is apparently inconclusive yet gives the impression of contact, but I do not know for sure.

I just cannot imagine the saga having unfolded in the way it has if it had involved virtually any other IOC member.

It was not just at the Session in Rio where Pengilly has upset the IOC leadership.

In 2013 in Buenos Aires, he asked Madrid and Istanbul’s 2020 Olympic bids hard but off-piste questions about their respective national doping problems before they lost to Tokyo.

In 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, he raised recent reports that the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) had been ignoring doping problems. 

Bach broke protocol to permit then IAAF President Lamine Diack to speak to deny wrongdoing, despite him being an honorary member by then. An IOC official told me a few days later that Pengiily’s comments were "not helpful". 

Diack was arrested and accused of masterminding the covering up of athletics doping cases later that year.

Pengilly was also consistently raising valid points throughout last week’s IOC Session here and was the only person to raise the word "referendum" all Session. We as journalists appreciate him for raising important issues just as much as the IOC leadership clearly hate it.

The IOC are due to meet again for a Session next Sunday (February 25). By then, we will know the Executive Board decision on whether Russia are allowed to participate under their own flag at the Closing Ceremony later that day.

We already know that Canadian doyen Richard Pound will not be attending that Session. Pengilly was the other figure expected to criticise a Russian appearance, and he will now not be there either. 

Convenient or coincidence? 

There are other puzzling aspects to the IOC response. Adams referred to how the security guard was a "volunteer" on four separate occasions when justifying the seriousness of the Pengilly situation yesterday, which certainly encourages a more empathetic response.

Mr Kim, as we have said, was actually fully paid for his work, even if he was also a student, so this is an important differentiation.

Adams hit-out at journalists pointing-out his mistake and accused them of not focusing on important issues. I made a tongue-in-cheek suggestion earlier this week that the IOC should consult with Donald Trump’s social media team about engaging with masses to do better in bid city referendums, but it transpires they have already adopted the lashing-out at criticism part.  

IOC Presidential spokesperson Mark Adams faced question after question about their response ©Getty Images
IOC Presidential spokesperson Mark Adams faced question after question about their response ©Getty Images

Bach, accompanied by Adams, supposedly met with the security guard for around 30 minutes to offer his apology on Pengilly’s behalf yesterday,. They claim not to have discussed details of the incident, though. We were also told by the IOC today that they doubt the CCTV will ever be released.

"You can speculate all you want, go back and forth and debate what happened," Adams added. "The issue is that Adam Pengilly agreed that he had acted poorly, that he had sworn and there had been an altercation and he left. As far as we are concerned that is the end of it."

Guilty as charged, then.

When confronted with allegations about a member, the IOC usually reactively pause like a biathlete composing themselves at the shooting range before using their curling brush to sweep any scandal off the ice and under the carpet of a confidential ethics investigation.

With Pengilly, the IOC have responded with the proactive speed of skeleton rider on the steepest descent.

Could they not have waited here, seen whether the most serious allegations were true, and then acted accordingly?

Israel’s Alex Gilady and Kuwait’s Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah have each been present in Pyeongchang despite ongoing IOC ethics proceedings. 

Gilady is fighting allegations of sexual harassment and rape in Israel.

Sheikh Ahmad also denies wrongdoing after being identified in a United States Department of Justice document in April in a case involving Guam's Richard Lai.

Okay, neither cases involved the Olympic Games and neither have admitted wrongdoing, but the difference in tone is striking and they did not consider provisional sanctions while the investigations unfolded.

IOC President Thomas Bach has not yet addressed the Adam Pengilly situation directly ©Getty Images
IOC President Thomas Bach has not yet addressed the Adam Pengilly situation directly ©Getty Images

The IOC also repeatedly stressed the importance of the "presumption of innocence" in their initial response on the day of arrest of then-IOC Executive Board member Patrick Hickey. He eventually "temporarily self-suspended" his membership, whatever that means, and we have had no update as he continues to try and clear his name 18 months on.

There was no quick response because the Olympic Games were compromised there.

The IOC-funded Association of National Olympic Committees even paid his bail money.

Many other similar parallels can be drawn.

This all once again raises concerns about IOC ethical procedures which, despite the arrival of former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as Ethics Commission chair, remains opaque and seemingly controlled by the senior IOC leadership team.

It leads us to conclude that politics is always at play, just as it will when the IOC make their verdict on Russia’s Closing Ceremony participation next week.

They probably cannot believe their good fortune that they have found a way to ensure Pengilly is not there to hold them to account. 

Liam Morgan will appear on Monday