Whatever the outcome of allegations that John Furlong has a hidden past as an abusive, possibly racist phys-ed teacher, the damage to the former Olympic kingpin's reputation is done.
History shows that people tainted by accusations, whether it's Michael Jackson's suspected pedophilia, Bill Clinton's serial womanizing or Peter MacKay's use of a search-and-rescue chopper as a taxi, can overcome them even if they're proven true.
But what happened to Furlong this week provides an object lesson in the perils of editing your past and why for people who rise to prominence in the wired world, full disclosure is always the best option.
The Irish-born Furlong was showered with honours after taking the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics from initial bid to triumphal climax as head of the Games organizing committee. He received the Order of Canada and was sought after for both business posts and political office.
Since the Games, Furlong has gone on the speaking circuit and acted as chairman of the Vancouver Whitecaps professional soccer team, among other things.
He wrote a memoir, Patriot Hearts, to cement the narrative of his life from his arrival as a young immigrant in 1974 to work as an athletic director in Prince George, B.C., to Olympic success.
In an explosive article published Thursday, Vancouver's Georgia Straight weekly said Furlong neglected to mention in the book and in other accounts of his life that he actually first came to Canada in 1969 as an 18-year-old Catholic missionary to the remote northern B.C. town of Burns Lake.
He reportedly worked as a physical-education teacher at Immaculata Elementary School, run by the Oblate order, which apparently had a largely aboriginal student body. The Straight article alleges he verbally and physically abused some students, kicking them sometimes and calling them names.
Furlong appears to have been aware for some time the allegations were simmering even before the Olympics.
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When the story broke Thursday, he called a news conference and, with his lawyer Marvin Storrow beside him, read a prepared statement categorically denying the accusations.
Furlong stressed his good relations with B.C. First Nations, which is key here because the allegations imply he was a part of the oppressive church-run school system that wrought havoc among aboriginal people up until a couple of decades ago. Students were punished for speaking their native languages and, especially at residential schools, many were subject to physical and sexual abuse.
He suggested someone connected with the allegations had tried to blackmail him, which he reported to the RCMP. He also accused Laura Robinson, the author of the Straight piece, of conducting a "personal vendetta" against him.
Indeed, Robinson has been questioning Furlong's official biography for some time. In a lengthy comment piece last year on the web site Play the Game, she claims Furlong white-washed his relationships with aboriginal students at Burns Lake, and later in Prince George, though she stops short of accusing him of abuse.
As to why he made no reference to his stint at Immaculata: "My time in Burns Lake was fairly brief and fairly uneventful. I went back to Ireland and came to Canada years later as a landed immigrant."
Furlong wouldn't take questions Thursday and now is leaving things to the police investigation, along with the likely launching of a libel suit against Robinson and the Straight.
Furlong denies abuse allegationsJohn Furlong, the former CEO of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, says he categorically denies allegations of abuse made against him by former students at a Burns Lake, B.C., school
Faced what appears to be a furious counter-attack from Furlong, the Straight and Robinson are standing firm.
"The story was backed up with eight sworn affidavits," Straight editor Charlie Smith said in an email to the Globe and Mail. "Marvin Storrow did not make Mr. Furlong available to respond to questions from the journalist, Laura Robinson."
Furlong claimed in his statement that Robinson made no effort to contact him, but her story references email exchanges between her and Storrow.
Robinson also told Global Montreal that she tried several times to question Furlong about his time as a Frontier Apostle missionary, including once in person.
"I have nothing personally at all against Mr. Furlong," Robinson added.
The allegations floored Furlong's friends and colleagues, who say there's nothing in Furlong's character to suggest the kind of abuse being alleged.
Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason, who ghost-wrote Patriot Hearts, said Furlong never mentioned his time at Burns Lake and the writer apparently did no independent research.
"In any discussions we had for the book, I can say that John never mentioned a previous stint in Canada before his more broadly known arrival in 1974," Mason told the Globe.
"As for the allegations levelled against him, all I can say is they don't line up in any way, shape or form with the man I have come to know. I expect he will fight them with every bone in his body."
(Photo courtesy Reuters)