Summing Up Samaranch -- July 11, 2001
British investigative reporter Andrew Jennings has been perhaps the most dogged critic of the Olympic movement under the 21-year reign of outgoing IOC President, Juan Antonio Samaranch. His books, Lords of the Rings (1992) and The New Lords of the Rings (1996) outlined the corruption within the Olympic movement--naming names, and including dates and places--long before the world was "shocked" with the Salt lake City scandal. In 2000, Jennings continued his assault on Olympic corruption with the publication of The Great Olympic Swindle. Here Jennings presents his assessment of Samaranch two days before His Excellency finally steps down.
By Andrew Jennings
Polished boots ring out across the cobbles of Barcelona. The Nazis are back in town.
Centre stage in his fascist blueshirt, flaming torches illuminating his proud face, clutching a wreath to honour fallen comrades, is Juan Antonio Samaranch in 1956, the man who one day will be Olympic king.
His vulpine features betray a hunger for power and acclaim. Years later, when he orchestrates an audacious campaign to win the Nobel Peace Prize, he
denies his past. He even perjures himself in court, claiming he never wore that shameful shirt.
Back in the 1950s this demonstration had one purpose. To remind the cowed citizens of Barcelona that dissent would not be tolerated.
It's convenient these days for Samaranch's Olympic placemen to forget that from the late 1930s until 1975, the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, put in power by Hitler and Mussolini, suffocated Spanish democracy. Brave men and women who stood up to the fascists knew well that the preferred instrument of torture and death was the garrotte.
Franco's executioners strapped their victims into a robust wooden chair, secured a metal collar round the neck, and tightened. The last time an executioner turned the screw in this slow-motion, body-thrashing, eye-bulging, throttling machine was in the spring of 1974 on the parade ground of a Barcelona barracks.
Samaranch was a key component of the administrative machinery of the Barcelona region. He could have followed the Pope's lead and begged for commutation of the sentence on a 26-year-old student. He remained silent.
"Franco," says the IOC president today, "was good for Spain."
Other Franco victims were buried in a mass grave high on Barcelona's Montjuich. When the 1992 Games were staged there, people said that on damp days you could smell the faint but persistent odour of their decay.
Samaranch learned the power of sport - and how it could serve his ambition - at Franco's ministry of propaganda, where he manipulated the people's passion to distract from the evils of the dictatorship. On days when the underground opposition threatened street demonstrations, Brazilian soccer was pumped around the clock into every TV set.
"I used politics to benefit sport, never the opposite," Samaranch says today when questioned about his fascist career. The system was good to him. He prospered, first as a property speculator, later controlling one of the country's leading banks.
As the Franco regime tottered, sport gave Samaranch an escape route. He joined the IOC and the Olympic reputation laundry washed his blueshirt white.
Reborn as a volunteer for sport he worked his way up the IOC becoming, in the last year of the dictatorship, a vice-president.
In need of a new patron, Samaranch turned to Horst Dassler, then owner of Adidas. Dassler boosted his business by "helping" sports leaders. Samaranch did the deal with the devil and was elected IOC president in 1980.
He replaced the stuffy but harmless toffs who dominated the old IOC with opportunists, thieves and refugees, like Samaranch, from discredited political regimes. The Games were put up for sale and Dassler's ISL company took the marketing contract.
Debts destroyed ISL earlier this year. Tectonic plates shifted in the Olympic underworld.
Traces of dirty money and kick-backs have emerged from the debris and some sports leaders fear what the bankruptcy investigations may throw up.
Samaranch has embraced friends like the notorious French money launderer Andre Guelfi, who has seen the inside of a prison cell, and others who have been fortunate not to.
Guelfi, now ensnared in France's biggest corruption scandal, piloted Samaranch world-wide in his private jet, using Olympic meetings to open the door to business opportunities. "When I'm with Samaranch, and I request an audience with somebody, I get it. . . we are the masters of the universe," says Guelfi, who sold
Samaranch the land by the Lausanne lakeside to build the Olympic museum.
Financial scandal dogs Samaranch. He and his son Juanito, about to be rubber-stamped into the IOC, have been interrogated about their role in the collapse of the Spanish oil-to-chemicals conglomerate Ercros. Last month, prosecutors called for a fellow-director, now Spain's foreign minister, to be indicted for fraud and tax evasion.
Corruption became the lubrication of his Olympic industry. Members worked their shakedowns on cities bidding for the Games. Some members visiting supplicant cities have developed their very own sport. One senior member reportedly commanded an Olympic-sized bed to accommodate a trio of prostitutes.
Another member who carries the torch of "Olympic family values," is permitted an affair with a leggy lovely employed by the IOC in Lausanne.
A mountain of "gifts" won the Games for his home town, Barcelona, and reports of corruption from Toronto, Sweden, Atlanta, Manchester, Cape Town and Germany were buried.
Other members closed their eyes, anaesthetised by the magnificent lifestyle Samaranch gave them from Olympic profits. Why should they care that the money machine ran on TV ratings, the ratings required record-breaking performances from athletes, and the athletes took dope so they could deliver the goods? Keep the money machine working, that was the mission. And if the athletes were doping, well, don't catch them!
From the beginning of Samaranch's presidency, back at the Moscow Games in 1980 - ironically his 21-year reign ends at the same city at a four-day IOC meeting starting on Friday - positive tests were suppressed, thus avoiding scandal.
The Americans call it "sink testing" - pouring the sample down the drain. It happened repeatedly in the Olympics until Sydney, when pressure from governments forced the IOC to put up with independent observers.
Samaranch survived the Salt Lake scandal, spending millions of dollars on New York spin doctors who contrived a list of "50 reforms" which were nothing of the kind. The IOC escaped, still the richest old boy's club in the world.
In April, as he remorselessly toured the world seeking final tribute from countries where sport depends on Olympic largesse, Georgia awarded Samaranch the Order of the Golden Fleece. This is not a joke. They said the award "reflected his special personal contribution to the development of the Olympic Movement," and how right they are.
Having fleeced sport of its moral and monetary value and institutionalised doping as an adjunct to victory he's off to the Kurt Waldheim retirement home in Barcelona.
But that won't be the end of Samaranch. He'll carry on scheming until someone hammers a stake through his heart.