Samaranch Faces Up to Scandals
On the eve of Nagano Winter Olympics, Juan Antonio Samaranch bragged about the success and health of the Olympic movement. “If something isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” He said. “The Olympic movement is in very good shape.” A year later, Samaranch is faced with calls for his resignation.
Many blame him for the worst corruption scandal in Olympic history, which has prompted the expulsion or forced resignation of nine IOC members implicated in misconduct in Salt Lake City’s successful bid for the 2002 Winter Games.
The 78-years-old Spaniard was appointed IOC president in 1980. When he took over in Moscow, the Olympic movement had been hit by terrorism, was facing failure and was brought to its knees by the catastrophic boycott of the 1980 Summer Games.
A former Spanish diplomat, he used quiet diplomacy and his skills as a businessman to turn the Olympics into the most prestigious sporting event in the world. The success made him more recognizable than most world leaders, many of whom fall over each other to curry his favor and be photographed with him.
Samaranch is credited with building the games into a multibillion-dollar industry, largely based on lucrative TV rights deals and the fierce competition among cities to land them.
With success has also come criticism about the rampant commercialism of the games. Samaranch has been characterized as “dictatorial.” a despot ruling over a born undemocratic, self-appointed body that lacks the normal financial controls of a multinational corporation. Critics say the IOC is incapable of policing itself, suggesting that Samaranch’s greatest legacy to the Olympics would be his resignation.
“I am not thinking of any kind of resignation,” Samaranch said, adding there wasn’t “a single” call within the IOC for him to step down.
Contrary to his authoritarian image, he describes himself as “ the conductor” who delegates to the 11-member IOC executive board. “ I’m not the boss” he likes to say.
Samaranch is a small, shy man, visibly uncomfortable in the public spotlight and lacking the charisma associated with the most powerful man in international sports.
He’s the IOC’s first full-time executive and the first to live full-time in Lausanne. Switzerland, the IOC’s headquarters. He receives no salary and works essentially as a volunteer, although he has said the next IOC president should be paid.
The IOC pays the rent on a small hotel suite in Lausanne, which costs $220 when he’s there and $72 when he’s away.
“I am not a rich man,” Samaranch said “I am a normal man. My style of life is the same for many, many years. I have no yachts. I have no planes. I have no cars, luxury cars.” IOC executive board member Richard Pound described his lifestyle as “practically monastic”.
A low moment came earlier in the year with the publication of the book “The Lords of the Rings,” which charged the Olympic movement with being corrupt, undemocratic and consumed by commercialism and greed.
“All the people know what I did, and I am very proud of what I did,” Samaranch said, calling the book full of “lies” and “mistakes” and adding that Anglo-Saxons hate the thought of a Latin running the IOC.
“The people of Spain know very well that I was collaborating with the Franco regime, like many others,” he added. “We are very proud of what we did. We went from the Franco regime to a full democracy in peace.”
Samaranch, who at the time said he was leaning toward stepping down in 1993. said the book gave him a reason to run for another term and show he had the support of the IOC members.