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bolo121
25 Apr 10,, 06:28
From Times Online
April 22, 2010
The man who stole the Olympics’ innocence
Juan Antonio Samaranch presided over the transformation of the Games’ fortunes and the death of their ideals
Matthew Syed

If you want to understand the evolution of institutionalised corruption, a good place to start is not at the Palace of Westminster or the City of London, but a palatial building in the Swiss town of Lausanne. It was here that Juan Antonio Samaranch, who died yesterday, masterminded the modern Olympic movement for more than two decades, transforming an amateur sporting organisation into a corporate colossus.

In 1980, when Samaranch first became President of the International Olympic Committee, the organisation received television and sponsorship income measured in the tens of millions of dollars. By the time of his departure in 2001 it had billions in its coffers. The Olympic rings, once a symbol of the hopes and aspirations of athletes from five continents, were now among the most lucrative corporate symbols on the planet, protected by copyright and exploited by an army of salesmen.

None of this commercialism need have mattered, and may even have been a force for good, except for one simple — and fatal — fact. As cash poured into the IOC and the world marvelled at the transformation in the Games, the organisation itself continued to languish in the dark ages. There were no checks or balances, no scrutiny. And, very soon, with poetic inevitability, no inhibition among IOC members when it came to accepting bribes on a scale that makes the MPs’ expenses scandal seem quaint.

Samaranch altered the rules so that members of the IOC no longer had to pay their own travel costs, insisting on first-class flights, five-star hotels and luxury on a scale that left athletes gasping for breath. The Spaniard reserved the greatest extravagance for himself, demanding the presidential suite in the grandest hotel in whichever city he happened to be visiting, a chauffeur-driven limousine and the title “your excellency”. He also billed the IOC for the use of a suite in the Palace Hotel in Lausanne whenever he was visiting Olympic headquarters.

Over time, and in the time-honoured manner of the cancer known as sleaze, the sense of entitlement among IOC members reached ever more grotesque proportions. As early as 1991, seven years before the defining Salt Lake City scandal, members were lavished with so many gifts from cities bidding for the 1998 Winter Olympics that the IOC had to set up a parcel post station in the Hyatt Regency hotel to help delegates to send their swag home.

“You’re treated like royalty, with limousines, wining and dining, a hotel suite,” Robert Helmick, a former US Olympic Committee President, would say later. “My wife would be afraid to go out on shopping trips. She found if she said she liked something, the next day it would show up in her room. Pearl brooches, five-ring pendants. And nothing is done to discourage it. You start thinking you deserve this. What you have is a group of good people caught up in a system that has become corrupt.”

Journalists started to sound the alarm bells and whistleblowers began to emerge from within bidding organisations, but Samaranch continued to turn a blind eye. The IOC membership was a self-selecting elite, with many members owing their elevation to the patronage of the President, and the Spaniard was not in the business of alienating his powerbase by removing their perks. As Andrew Jennings, co-author of Lords of the Rings, put it: “Corruption became the lubrication of his Olympic industry.”

Only after the Salt Lake City scandal broke in 1998 — with allegations of millions of dollars being paid to corrupt IOC members — did Samaranch act. An investigation led to the expulsion of six members and the resignation of four others, although it exonerated the President. New rules, including the outlawing of gifts and the banning of visits to bidding cities, were put in place. Whether they are sufficient to ensure that an organisation that continues to grow in wealth stays on the straight and narrow remains to be seen.

The untrammelled power of Samaranch over the organisation that he ruled for 21 years was perhaps most graphically illustrated in the final days of his administration. In the summer of 2001, as the Olympic movement prepared to anoint his successor, Samaranch nominated his own son Juan Antonio Junior, a Madrid-based businessman and a vice-president of the International Modern Pentathlon Federation, to join the exalted ranks of the IOC. The vote was won by an overwhelming 71-27 majority.

Samaranch, who would continue to move prominently in Olympic circles for many years to come as an honorary IOC President-for-Life, kissed his son on both cheeks and squeezed his arm during the formal swearing-in ceremony in Moscow. Accused of nepotism, the outgoing President demonstrated serene indifference. “I proposed my son with the agreement of the executive board of the IOC because I think my son can be a good member of the IOC,” he said. “This is not so important.”

All around the world youngsters dream of Olympic gold. From the plains of Africa to the dusty streets of Rio, from Manchester to Manila, budding athletes aspire to climb the fabled podium and to inhabit the imagination of the world. The tenure of Samaranch was not a betrayal of the vested interests that continue to cling to the Olympic movement; it was a betrayal of dreams. It was as if the collective endeavour of the athletes of the world — the men and women the Olympics are supposed to be about — were merely grist to the mill of executive corruption.

In the early part of the last century, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the aristocratic founder of the modern Olympic movement, offered the following musing: “The day when a sportsman stops thinking of the happiness in his own effort and the intoxication of the power and physical balance he derives from it, the day when he lets considerations of vanity or interest take over, on this day his ideal will die.”

Little did the Frenchman realise that his words would prove to be prophetic, describing with chilling accuracy the ruinous path taken by the organisation he strove so hard to create.

The man who stole the Olympics’ innocence | Matthew Syed - Times Online (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article7104241.ece)

A nasty piece of work indeed. Makes you wonder why cities bother bidding for the Olympics anymore. All you get is huge debts and mothballed buildings.

Chogy
25 Apr 10,, 13:05
The man who stole the Olympics’ innocence | Matthew Syed - Times Online (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article7104241.ece)

A nasty piece of work indeed. Makes you wonder why cities bother bidding for the Olympics anymore. All you get is huge debts and mothballed buildings.

Like an athletic Ponzi scheme. He would make grandiose claims, the cities would pony up the $$, and never gain the expected payout, or even break even, while instead, the IOC grew fat.

bigross86
25 Apr 10,, 13:15
Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the Olympics originally supposed to be non-professional athletes, all about the amateur? How come there are NBA players and other professional athletes filling the ranks of Olympics competitors?

bolo121
25 Apr 10,, 14:50
Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the Olympics originally supposed to be non-professional athletes, all about the amateur? How come there are NBA players and other professional athletes filling the ranks of Olympics competitors?

I think this sort of started during the cold war years, countries wanted to make a good showing and so started to include even pro athletes to maximise medal counts.

bigross86
25 Apr 10,, 15:34
So I'd think that above all is what stole the Olympics innocence. Sure, corruption is wrong, but it's nothing new. But trampling over some amateur's chances of winning a medal because of national pride is forgetting where national pride actually stems from...

Chogy
26 Apr 10,, 14:43
You have to understand, for 30 years, we watched college kids in ice hockey, basketball, perhaps some other team sports, get crushed by Soviet bruisers who were professional in the sense that their particular sport was all they did... ever. Likely candidates were culled from the Army, or raised from infancy, and sent to sports "centers" to hone their skills for years on end. We wanted to send in our ringers to even it up.

Basketball was especially egregious. There were a lot of voices that demanded to know the difference between their pros and our pros. And in the end, I guess there was none.

I've lost interest in the olympics, though. It is too commercial, and they don't televise the sports I'd like to watch.

bigross86
26 Apr 10,, 15:06
The only thing I'd watch is rugby union, but there is no rugby union. Oh, well...

Bigfella
26 Apr 10,, 15:52
Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the Olympics originally supposed to be non-professional athletes, all about the amateur? How come there are NBA players and other professional athletes filling the ranks of Olympics competitors?


BR,

There is another way to look at this.

I'll deal with the olympics first, because I suspect we will agree on this. I think that the problem to lay at Samaranch's door is that he turned the IOC into a moneymaking exercise & therefore corrupted the bidding process. You'll notice that Games like Barcelona, Seoul & Sydney all went to places with powerful senior IOC figures. Indeed, Barcelona was an attempt to make up for betraying his native Catalonia as a Francoist minister. The IOC should administer the Olympics, not whore it out for a fee.

The other problem was that the money making machine became more important than the event. This is about high level deals for media rights, promising host cities profits that never eventuate & covering up drug tests. It is also about introducing events based on their ability to pull an audience rather than their intrinsic athletic worth or their history at the games (a lot of this has been directed at getting women viewers - thus rythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming etc). Thus the tail is wagging the dog.

I am going to have to disagree, however, on the issue of professionalism. There are a several ways to look at this.

The first is a social equity issue. The idea of amateur sport dates from an era when 'chaps' who could spare the time & money required & get time off work could devote themselves to their hobby - sport. This was wonderful if you could do it, but it excluded a lot of eligible men & virtually all women from elite sports. if you couldn't find a sponsor then well & good. If not then tough. I suspect that most people who watch sport want to see the best, not just those with the spare time. As much as anything the evolution of professional sport can be viewed as part of the long term decline of class boundaries.

The second is an honesty issue. Amateurism was never quite as clean as it looked. In some sports there were 'under the table' payments to athletes. In the case of the old Soviet Bloc & Olympic sports athletes were professional in all but name. In America the college system could do the same (if in a less co-ordinated fashion). Tough if you happened to be from somewhere else. best hope you local association could slip you some cash to pay the bills while you were away. Amateurism skewed outcomes every bit as much as professionalism.

The last point is for me the kicker - getting paid what you are worth. The growth of middle class & working class income combined with the spread of television in the 2nd half of the C20th has been a bonanza for organized sport. Money has just poured in. Athletes are the reason, they should get the biggest slice. This puts the Olympics in an awkwad position. it can deny competing athletes their dues, it can ban all professional sports, or it can become an event for also-rans. I can't imagine this would fit with most people's idea of what the games is.

I don't watch the games much because the sports I care about aren't there. They are, however, the peak for most of the sports that are included (on which point, I would ditch soccer & baseball for a start). This wouldn't be the case if professionals weren't permitted. For me, drugs are the real villan in robbing the games of their spectacle. I would make a single positive test anywhere anytime (or the avoidence of tests as Thanou did) grounds for a lifetime Olympic ban & the stripping of all past honours. Unfortunately this is where the IOC's love of money will always get in the way.

Bigfella
26 Apr 10,, 15:54
The only thing I'd watch is rugby union, but there is no rugby union. Oh, well...


You mean a sport that so recently ditched amateurism for professionalism? :biggrin:

bigross86
26 Apr 10,, 16:51
I like Rugby union for a few reasons:

It's better than NFL. It's more violent. I still love NFL, don't get me wrong, but I like the gameplay and the violence.

Did I mention the violence?

Besides, Rugby Union is a sport with a league and annual seasons, according to country or a few countries in a group, not a once every 4 years international expo. The Rugby World Cup is a championship of those countries Professional teams.

I've never seen the All Blacks or the Springboks or the Wankerbies promoted as amateur teams

Genosaurer
26 Apr 10,, 19:03
Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the Olympics originally supposed to be non-professional athletes, all about the amateur? How come there are NBA players and other professional athletes filling the ranks of Olympics competitors?

The modern Olympic games were intended as a celebration of civilized races and their upper, upper, upper classes. It was organized so only amatuers were allowed, because at that time only the fantastically rich could afford to be an amateur Olympic athlete - all the time and training was well beyond the miserable proles, thus making it amateurs only kept the riff-raff out. People from "undeveloped countries," i.e. anywhere but Europe and parts of North America, weren't welcome. Performance-enhancing drugs and cheating were pretty widespread.

Oh yeah, the once-pure spirit of the Olympic games has been corrupted.

Gun Grape
27 Apr 10,, 03:44
The only thing I'd watch is rugby union, but there is no rugby union. Oh, well...




Summer Olympics

Womens beach volleyball- being from Florida, I was raised on beach volleyball. Its pure art watching those girls in small lycra "Uniforms" play the game.:biggrin:

Bigfella
27 Apr 10,, 07:28
I like Rugby union for a few reasons:

It's better than NFL. It's more violent. I still love NFL, don't get me wrong, but I like the gameplay and the violence.

Did I mention the violence?

Besides, Rugby Union is a sport with a league and annual seasons, according to country or a few countries in a group, not a once every 4 years international expo. The Rugby World Cup is a championship of those countries Professional teams.

I've never seen the All Blacks or the Springboks or the Wankerbies promoted as amateur teams


I like Rugby Union too. Big, angry men & no padding.

Until VERY recently (for me, anyway) Union was amateur. As a result of a big fight in the 1990s over pay TV rights & a potential split in world Rugby it all went professional. There was a good deal of angst in the game about this, since amateurism was a mark of pride & a key point of difference with the scruffier types who play League. The club structure you see now (Super 15s or whatever it is now) came out of this. The first 3 Rugby World Cups were amateur events.

History of rugby union - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_rugby_union#The_professional_era)