Samaranch: Medals and money

Former IOC president dies leaving a legacy of a commercially-booming Olympic movement.

    Samaranch steered the Olympics to a position of huge commercial success [AFP]

    Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former International Olympic Committee president who died on Wednesday, will be remembered as the man who shaped the face of the modern Olympic movement, transforming it into a giant global enterprise that embodies both the best and worst elements of modern sport.

    During his 21 years in charge of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Spaniard helped turn the summer Games from a white elephant which almost bankrupted the city of Montreal in 1976 into a money-spinning bonanza that can still lay claim to being the greatest sporting show on earth.

    Samaranch, who died in hospital in Barcelona at the age of 89, steered the movement through two successive political boycotts which could have destroyed the Games and ushered it into the era of professional sport.

    But Samaranch also presided over two decades during which the IOC suffered its biggest bribery scandal and when the lure of an Olympic gold medal persuaded many competitors to use potentially dangerous drugs in a bid to cheat their way to riches.

    His critics contend that Samaranch's commercial achievements helped fuel the greed that led to the Salt Lake corruption scandal which exploded in late 1998 and argue that he failed to address adequately the growing menace of drugs in sport.

    Sports under Franco

    Born in Barcelona on July 17, 1920, Samaranch pursued a career in sports politics in General Francisco Franco's fascist Spain.

    He was Spanish chef de mission at three Olympic Games before winning a place on the IOC in 1966.

    After Franco's death, Samaranch was appointed as ambassador to the Soviet Union where important contacts among third world sports officials helped him succeed Lord Killanin as IOC president in 1980.

    Johnson's drugs ban was one of the biggest scandals under Samaranch [GALLO/GETTY]

    Almost immediately Samaranch was confronted with a crisis which threatened the future of the Games with a US-led western boycott of the Moscow Olympics followed by an eastern bloc retaliation in 1984 at Los Angeles.

    Los Angeles not only provided a spectacular show, it was also a financial success and represented a clear break with the past with its focal sport of athletics now fully professional.

    The 1992 Barcelona Games, held in Samaranch's birthplace, were a stunning success as corporate sponsors queued to join the party and the price of television rights soared.

    Boycotts were over and all seemed well in the Olympic movement, but there were mutterings of bribes to IOC members in the now fiercely competitive bids to host the winter and summer Games.

    Allegations of drugs cover-ups also persisted.

    Johnson drugs scandal

    The Ben Johnson drugs scandal, when the Canadian sprinter tested positive after winning the 1988 Seoul Olympic 100m final, shocked the world.

    A subsequent Canadian government inquiry found evidence that doping was widespread in athletics.

    In 1994 Samaranch declared: "Chinese sport is very clean", on the eve of the Asian Games.

    Six weeks later news leaked out that world 400m freestyle champion Yang Aihua had tested positive.

    A further 10 Chinese positives were revealed.

    A series of high-profile drug busts including the Festina scandal at the 1998 Tour de France prompted the IOC to call a special anti-doping conference at its Lausanne headquarters in early 1999 and to establish the World Anti-doping Agency (Wada).

    Wada's first president Dick Pound, who had played an important role in turning the Olympics into a profitable concern, said before ending his tenure that Samaranch had shown little interest in the battle against the use of drugs in sport.

    Another scandal struck when veteran IOC member Marc Hodler, who had run against Samaranch for the presidency, told reporters some members had been bribed to award the 2002 Winter Games to Salt Lake City.


    The allegations were confirmed and, to their horror, IOC members found themselves international pariahs enduring stinging attacks from politicians and the world's media.

    The IOC was accused of not stamping down soon enough on the excessive free trips of members and Samaranch faced calls to quit from the media at the height of the Salt Lake scandal.

    Visits to candidate cities were later banned but Samaranch still won a vote of confidence from IOC members with ease.

    In response, the IOC instituted internal reforms, including bans on visits to bidding cities, while 10 members either resigned or were expelled.

    The final decisions made during Samaranch's tenure were the decision to award Beijing the right to stage the 2008 Olympics despite widespread criticism of China's human rights record and the election of his chosen successor Jacques Rogge as the new IOC president.

    Samaranch's supporters believe he saved the Olympic Games from destruction and demonstrated subtle political skills in a difficult time.

    And his critics argue that many of the original ideals were obscured in the search for commercial success.

    He died in Barcelona on Wednesday, April 21, 2010.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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