Samaranch’s sad legacy

When someone dies, it’s traditional to only say nice things about the person — even if he or she was of flawed character. Then, a few weeks or months later, the truth generally comes out about the person.

When someone dies, it’s traditional to only say nice things about the person — even if he or she was of flawed character. Then, a few weeks or months later, the truth generally comes out about the person.

This is especially the case with celebrities.

Consider, for instance, former International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch, 89. He died on Wednesday and judging from the latest media reports, one could conclude that the guy was an absolute saint.

Current IOC chief Jacques Rogge is describing Samaranch as “a great man,” suggesting he was “the most influential (IOC) president after our founder Pierre de Coubertin.”

“He was happy to defend the values of sport,” adds Samaranch’s daughter Maria Teresa.

But did Samaranch really defend the values of sport?

No, he helped transform the Olympics from a celebration of amateur athletics into a fiasco in which NBA stars are celebrated for winning the gold medal in basketball by defeating a tiny nation like Croatia.

It was on the former bank president’s watch that the Games came to be more about money than sport.

He appeared to be absolutely oblivious to the dangers of doping and corruption.

Unusually in love with the trappings and titles of the IOC presidency, he welcomed all sorts of ethically challenged people as members of the organization.

And like countless other IOC officials, he appears to have turned a blind eye to obvious instances of committee members voting for certain cities to host the Games in exchange for bribes.

Yet, even when such corruption became public, Samaranch refused to step down or accept any personal responsibility.

Canadian Olympics veteran Dick Pound has nothing but praise for Samaranch this week, but a few years ago he had something quite different to say.

According to The New York Times, Pound called Samaranch’s final day in office, in which he also managed to get his son Juan Antonio Jr. named to the committee, “a complete orgy of self-glorification.”

According to the Times, “Samaranch kept standing for additional four-year terms (securing them by acclamation instead of real electoral campaigns),” when he could have helped the Olympic movement clean up its act by quitting.

In any case, Samaranch hung onto his position for 21 years, and the Olympics suffered for it.

His supporters credit him with modernizing the Games by allowing in professional athletes and helping the Olympics become self-supporting through corporate sponsorships, but those two factors have pretty much separated the Games from true amateur competition.

Samaranch, a former supporter of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, is getting a lot of positive press this week, but history will not judge him kindly.

We need not be charitable in the face of the cold truth.

Lee Giles is an Advocate editor.