(ATR) From current IOC President Jacques Rogge and other IOC members, to staff members and organizing committee leaders, former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch is remembered as a powerful figure for the Olympic Movement.
Services for Samaranch, who died Wednesday morning at age 89, will be held just 24 hours later in his birthplace of Barcelona.
IOC President Jacques Rogge: Samaranch Consulted His Peers
IOC president Jacques Rogge told reporters Wednesday that he learned from Samaranch the value of teamwork and to listen to people before making decisions.
“Samaranch was a master in consulting people before taking a decision,” Rogge said, “and when he took a decision, he knew already most likely he would have total support of a wide majority for his project.”
Rogge said that many times he asked Samaranch’s advice, “but he never imposed his advice, I remember one day he said to me, ‘Jacques, why do you ask my advice? You don’t need it.’ We started laughing. We had a great relationship, without any doubt.”
Rogge has a very strong memory of the day he and Samaranch left the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer to visit war-torn Sarajevo, site of the 1984 Games. They arrived by military airplane and drove around in armored cars amid shooting in the city.
Samaranch “wanted to bring a message of peace,” Rogge said.
In making the Olympics the success story that they are today, Rogge said that Samaranch found a solution to “the vexing issue of amateurism” that had “poisoned the Olympic Movement” since its creation in 1894. With IOC member Richard Pound and L.A. Olympics chief Peter Ueberroth, Samaranch started a new policy in terms of sponsorship and television rights that financially gives the IOC “the strength today to invest in the future of sport.”
The first women became IOC members on Samaranch’s watch in 1981, and his efforts to bring more women into the Movement is one of his greatest legacies, Rogge said. Although he said the current number — 20 — is still not enough, participation of women in the Olympics has risen from 18 percent in 1980 to 45 percent today.
Pound Says Samaranch May Have Few Rivals
Richard Pound, longtime IOC member from Canada, worked closely with Samaranch during his 21-year tenure as president. Pound was chair of the IOC Marketing Commission under Samaranch.
“We’re not going to see a president like that for a long time,” Pound tells Around the Rings. “He brought an organization that was really closed in 19th-century attitudes and approaches into the 21st century and made the IOC and the Movement it represents a real player on the world stage,” Pound tells Around the Rings.
Between capitalizing on television rights fees, inventing Olympic marketing, dealing with the new media, the Salt Lake City scandal and the creation of WADA, Pound says his “overall memory is somebody who had a very clear idea of what he wanted to do with the organization and who was prepared to work hard to do it.
“I always said that he worked on the IOC 365 days a year plus nights, and that was his consuming interest.”
During the Salt Lake City scandal, Samaranch was under a great deal of pressure from around the world and the media.
“If you’re going to take credit when the sun shines, you’ve also got to accept responsibility when it rains,” Pound says. “If you’re the head of an organization and members of that organization do bad things, then it reflects on you, even though you didn’t do it yourself and wouldn’t have done it yourself.”
Samaranch established major reforms from within the organization, rather than use a third party.
During his tenure, Samaranch also was criticized for his relationships with repressive regimes, which included IOC members from those countries and bestowing the Olympic Order in gold upon East German leader Erich Honecker.
“When you’re trying to do 110 years work in 20 years, sometimes you make choices that were important at the time, but come back to bite you,” Pound says. “To get all the competing countries and organizations inside the tent and working together, sometimes the people that represented those interests are not individuals you would ordinarily want to have as your members, but you need them at the time in order to accomplish the main objective. And some of those choices came back to bite us.”
Ueberroth Says Samaranch Had Foresight and Courage
Peter Ueberroth, the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics chief, tells Around the Rings that while Baron Pierre de Coubertin “was obviously the founder of the modern Olympics, Juan Antonio was the savior of the Olympic Movement as we now know it.”
Ueberroth says he was honored to meet privately with Samaranch the day he was elected IOC president in Moscow in 1980. “In the midst of our country attempting to destroy those Games” through a boycott, Ueberroth says, “he had the foresight and courage to embrace Los Angeles.”
Ueberroth says Samaranch became a partner and supported Los Angeles as it established a new financial model that Samaranch turned into a global model. This allowed the Olympic Movement to retain its independence instead of falling under the management of government agencies.
“He was a always honorable, always kept his word with us,” Ueberroth says, “and when we had crises, when the Soviets announced their counter boycott, he was in the United States and we went and visited with Ronald Reagan. He was an active, consummate leader.”
Ueberroth says Samaranch reached around the world, joining with Mario Vazquez Rana of Mexico, Joao Havelange of Brazil and Primo Nebiolo of Italy to establish a formidable power base. “They all had differences, but together they created a strong, vibrant Olympic Movement,” Ueberroth says.
One of Samaranch’s great regrets was that he did not win the Nobel Peace Prize. “He should have,” Ueberroth says. “Prizes are nice, but I think he can always look down and know that there are millions of people around the world practicing sports because of what he did.”
Brazil Declares Mourning
The Brazilian Olympic Committee and the Rio 2016 Games Organizing Committee declared three days of official mourning.
Carlos Nuzman, the president of COB and Rio 2016, said Samaranch “transformed the history of the Olympic Games” from “a loss-making event without commercial and media appeal” to the “biggest spectacle on the planet.”
“This is an irreplaceable loss for world sport,” he added. Nuzman was one of the final IOC members elected during the Samaranch tenure.
Nuzman said Samaranch played a decisive role in including beach volleyball in the Olympic program. “His visit to Rio in 1993 endorsed the inclusion of the sport in the Olympic Games. I received a lot of valuable advice from the former IOC president and I always sought to follow it,” he said.
Nuzman said Samaranch even advised him to organize a large multi-sport event like the Pan-American Games in Brazil as a prerequisite for bidding for the Olympics. In the end, Rio defeated Madrid for the 2016 Games. “And everything went according to the wise words of Samaranch,” Nuzman said. “The excellent organization of Rio 2007 gave us the base for our successful Rio 2016 bid. Even though we were on opposite sides of this race, there was always a lot of mutual respect. Brazilian Olympic sport will be eternally grateful to Juan Antonio Samaranch.”
Samaranch Marketing Chief Says Boss Saved the Games
Former IOC marketing/broadcast director Michael Payne calls Samaranch “the man who saved the Olympics.”
Payne tells Around the Rings that Samaranch was “a truly remarkable, visionary leader and I think people are only beginning to fully appreciate what he achieved. When he took over the IOC, it wasn’t that it was just bankrupt, nobody wanted to touch it, and even Samaranch thought about resigning a couple of weeks after becoming president — the situation was so grim.”
But Samaranch held fast. “He doesn’t give up,” Payne said, “And the same way as in the Salt Lake City crisis, he didn’t walk away from the problem. He rolled up his sleeves and drove 30 years of reforms in six months.”
Payne adds that Samaranch single-handedly “fixed” the Olympics on all fronts, politically on the issue of boycotts, commercially with increased funding and modernizing the Olympics by bringing more women into the IOC and into the Games.
Payne points out that outside of the IOC, “especially within sections of the Anglo Saxon media and the US Government, Samaranch was often misunderstood. The unity he forged in the Olympic Movement led some to accuse him of being dictatorial. Nothing could be further from the truth. He led from the front, but his style was to create consensus by shrewd persuasion and debate. Although he had a major presence on the world stage, he lived a simple life and had only one vice – an abiding passion for sport.”
Diack Says Samaranch Will Be Missed
Lamine Diack, IOC member and president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), said Samaranch was “truly a man of sport and we will miss him greatly.”
Diack said he had “no hesitation” in describing Samaranch as “the person who transformed the modern Olympic movement into what it has become today. Samaranch worked with great energy, intelligence and the skills of a natural diplomat to create a unified Olympic Movement and to ensure that the Olympic Games became the world’s most influential sporting event.”
Diack added that at each Olympics and every World Championships until last year’s event in Berlin, “Juan Antonio would take his place in the tribune to follow the Athletics with enthusiasm and an expert’s eye.”
Atlanta Olympics President Billy Payne
Billy Payne, the 1996 Atlanta Olympics chief, was on vacation and issued a statement:
“He was a great contributor to the Olympic movement and largely responsible for the award of the Centennial Games to Atlanta. He will be missed by us all.”
Ebersol Says Samaranch “Loomed Large”
Dick Ebersol, Chairman, NBC Universal Sports & Olympics, called Samaranch “a towering figure in the world of sport and a diplomat of consummate skill who navigated through turmoil to reunite the Olympic Movement.
“But as large as he loomed on the world scene, Juan Antonio Samaranch was a great partner and an even better man. In the best of times he was a good friend and, more importantly, in the worst of times he was an even better one. He was a truly magnificent and thoughtful gentleman.”
“A Giant” to Sponsors
Antonio Lucio, chief marketing officer at Visa, sent this message to President Rogge: “On behalf of the Visa family, I want to extend our deepest sympathy on the passing of Don Juan Antonio Samaranch. He was a giant in the world of sports and his legacy of change and transformation will be sealed by history. As proud members of the Olympic movement, our thoughts and prayers are with you all and with the Samaranch family.”
Media Watch: U.S. Columnists Reflect on Samaranch
Christine Brennan of USA Today recalls what the IOC leader did for women in the Olympics.
Phil Hersh of the Tribune newspapers notes how Samaranch linked himself with some questionable political personages.
Alan Abrahamson remembers Samaranch as “Call me Juan Antonio.”
Written and compiled by Ed Hula and Karen Rosen.
(Copyright 1992 2008, all rights reserved. The information in this report may not be published, excerpted, or otherwise distributed in print or broadcast without the express prior consent of Around the Rings.)