POSTED: April 27th 2010

JOHN GOODBODY: How Samaranch put both a smile and a frown on face of the Olympics

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative, exclusive series only from Sports Features Communications

LONDON, Apr 28: Few people in the long history of the Olympic Games have so polarised opinion as Juan Antonio Samaranch, who was president of the International Olympic Committee from 1980 to 2001 and who died last week.

For some, he was the man who saved the Olympic movement through modernisation of its financing and administration, expanded the size of the Games and introduced new sports. For others, he was the figure, who presided over a corrupt system of allocating the hosts of the Games, which also had become increasingly tarnished by drug scandals.

What is in no doubt is that probably no-one has had a more profound impact on the Games since they were revived in 1896.

Until 1980, IOC membership was largely confined to white males, principally in Europe, north America and the British Commonwealth. Samaranch brought in the first women, other races and many former competitors.

The membership expanded to be more representative of the nations taking part. He persuaded China and Taiwan to compete alongside each other as well as the two Koreas. Multi-racial teams from South Africa were welcomed back into the fold.

Third world assistance

An Olympic Museum was established, largely through contributions from sponsors and donors, and the Winter Games were moved from the same year as the Summer Games to the other even year in the Olympic cycle. This helped marketing.

And it was in marketing and commercialisation that Samaranch was especially successful.

In 1980, the Summer Games had television rights of £60m and the Winter Games of £13m. By 1981, these had risen to £1bn and £480m. He oversaw the establishing of the Top Programme of sponsors. Set up in 1985, it was bringing in £480m early in the 21st century, some of the revenue being able to be used to help the international federations as well as sport in the Third World.

However, he failed to tackle the problem of drugs, which besmirched many sports, despite the fact that he admitted the IOC “had some responsibility for the whole of sport”, not just for the brief period of the Games themselves.

Out-of-competition testing was introduced far too late, so allowing many competitors to benefit from hormone drugs during training.

The World Anti-Doping Agency was set up by the IOC only in 1999 and this event in Lausanne was overshadowed by the scandal, which had broken three months earlier and threatened the IOC’s very existence.

Salt Lake scandal

The evidence that Salt Lake City had secured the 2002 Winter Games by bribery led to 10 members resigning or being expelled. For years, many IOC members had enjoyed lavish hospitality from cities coveting their votes.

Despite a global clamour, Samaranch insisted on remaining as president to see through changes, including a ban on members visiting candidate cities. An ethics commission was set up and a satisfied Samaranch was able to resign formally in 2001 in the same hall in Moscow, where he had been elected 21 years earlier.

Was therefore Samaranch a force for good in the Olympic Movement ? The answer must be yes – but with severe reservations.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2008 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 11th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001

Keywords · Goodbody · Samaranch · IOC · International Olympic Committee · WADA

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