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Samaranch’s legacy

Former International Olympic Committee director Juan Antonio Samaranch passed away today at the age of 89. While Samaranch’s tenure unquestionably transformed the Olympics into the multibillion-dollar global enterprise it is today and expanded participation among developing countries and women, the former Franco-regime official also left the games with a reputation corruption that will be hard ...

Former International Olympic Committee director Juan Antonio Samaranch passed away today at the age of 89. While Samaranch’s tenure unquestionably transformed the Olympics into the multibillion-dollar global enterprise it is today and expanded participation among developing countries and women, the former Franco-regime official also left the games with a reputation corruption that will be hard to reverse.

Here’s an excerpt on Samaranch from Olympic historian John Hoberman’s "Think Again: Olympics" in the July/August 2008 issue of FP:

The corruption was never worse than when Juan Antonio Samaranch, an unreconstructed Spanish fascist, was president of the IOC from 1980 to 2001. Samaranch brought with him from Franco’s Spain an authoritarian style that facilitated the bribery of IOC members, destroyed any chance of curbing doping, and appointed a generation of committee members who never dared to oppose him.

Samaranch, who insisted on being called "Excellency," filled the IOC with such characters as South Korean intelligence operative Kim Un Yong and Indonesian timber magnate Bob Hasan. Both have served prison time for corruption. Then there’s Lee Kun Hee, the chairman of Samsung Electronics (convicted of bribery in 1996) and Francis Nyangweso, once the military commander in chief for Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the 1970s. Nyangweso remains on the IOC board to this day. Why this rogues’ gallery was recruited into a "peace" and "human rights" organization remains a mystery.

In fairness, one improvement in the way the IOC operates should be acknowledged. After the 1999 bribery scandal in which IOC members were paid off to support Salt Lake City’s bid for the 2002 Winter Games, the IOC established a technical committee comprising a small number of vetted members to oversee the host city selection process, thereby reducing the risk of bribes to less trustworthy colleagues. The one topic this committee will not address, however, is whether staging the games in a repressive society might be a bad idea. Last year, the IOC rewarded Russia’s pseudo-democracy with the 2014 Winter Games. When protesters showed up during the IOC’s visit there in April, they were beaten by police.

 Twitter: @joshuakeating

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