Magazine article The Spectator

Dear Mary

Magazine article The Spectator

Dear Mary

Article excerpt

IT is always hard to believe it when a megalomaniacal gerontocrat leaves his office without being dead, but Juan Antonio Samaranch really has stepped down as president of the International Olympic Committee. I always knew the man was mortal, but I never found any evidence to suggest that he did.

He presided over an Olympic movement infected by corrupt toadies, although I don't think that Samaranch was corrupt himself in any obvious, numbered-Swiss-- bank-account kind of way. There are many more subtle vices than peculation, and a certain mania for self-aggrandisement was always the flaw in Samaranch.

Samaranch modernised the Olympic movement, but the price has been high. When he took over, the Olympics were dying on their feet: boycotted financial ruin (Montreal, 1976) or boycotted political triumphalism (Moscow, 1980).

Samaranch made the Games financially viable through sponsorship and massive deals with television companies, and he made them so hugely sexy that no nation could afford to boycott them. This was good news for those of us who like watching sport: the Olympic Games is the best show ever, culminating in the great gourmandising feast of Sydney last year.

But, because of Samaranch's style, the very word 'Olympic' brings out a cynical sneer. The Olympic movement has claimed the moral high ground since the first Games in 1896. Because of its highfalutin claims of nobility, universal brotherhood and world peace, any falling short of virgin-white perfection has always looked quite wondrously vile.

Samaranch introduced professional athletes to the Games, thereby dispensing with years of hypocrisy; he was also in control when the Pandora's box of performance-- enhancing drugs was opened. …

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