25 Nov 2008

The Strange Men Of The IOC

Here's someone reading Pierre de Coubertin's announcement of the restoration of the Olympic Games in 1900.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin is credited with the modern foundation of the Olympic Games. I had heard of his name before, but never really had that much of an interest. He was from an aristocratic family, but as this was France, that pretty much just means wealthy. His dad was a painter (I'm not sure whether this means 'painter-decorator' or swarthy French artisan), and according to the official story his Mum got the nice big Ch√Ęteau in Normandy.

A big influence was the public school system in England at the time, specifically Rugby, and this apparently gave him the idea that sport could be more than about just competing, and can have some sort of noble aim. He was a believer in the 'aesthetic' of sport and eurythmy. Some allege that part of the aim of de Coubertin's Olympic movement was to strengthen the colonial powers' grip over fledgling nations, although to me that's based on assumptions rather than fact. Robert J. McNamara (not the former US Secretary of State of the same name) reckons that his childhood experience of France getting its ass kicked in the Franco-Prussian war contributed to his desire to get everyone all sporty like. French education was intellectual, whereas English public school education had PE and rampant sexual abuse, which was far more noble.

So far, so good.

Our next weird man of the Olympics is Avery Brundage.


Now he really was a character.

His first major controversy was when he was President of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). In 1936, there was a campaign to boycott the 1936 games in Germany (in which, not surprisingly, Jews were excluded) and he rejected this boycott. He was important in getting rid of hostile opinion within USOC and was rewarded by a position on the International Olympic Committee (IOC). In the 1936 400m event, Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller (the only 2 Jewish athletes in the US team) were replaced by the better remembered Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe. There was no evidence to directly say Brundage expelled them, but considering he later spoke in praise of Hitler, he probably had something to do with it. More about him here...

He became IOC President in 1952, and continued his shitty policies for quite some time (no professionals, no women): "I am fed up to the ears with women as track and field competitors... her charms sink to something less than zero. As swimmers and divers, girls are [as] beautiful and adroit as they are ineffective and unpleasing on the track."

Anyway, there's lots of stuff on him. Now we're onto Juan Antonio Samaranch.
Samaranch became President of the Spanish National Olympic Committee in 1967, and was a member of the IOC from 1966 onwards. You may recall that, until 1975, Spain had a political system that perhaps Avery Brundage might have approved of. He became IOC President in 1980, and set about making much of the changes that, for better or worse, we continue with today.

As the IOC was screwed for cash in the 1970's, Samaranch decided that sponsors for the games should be global, and not decided by each country. On the plus side, the IOC got a massive cash boost, but at the cost of the smaller companies that used to enjoy the exposure. Sponsorship from then onwards (like now) is provided by huge multinational and transnational corporations. He also made the competition professional (which it apparently wasn't before then).

Maybe the money went to his head. He asked to be referred to as 'Your Excellency', and according to the Irish Times, needed a limousine and a presidential suite wherever he went. Some of the worst corruption of the IOC (doping, vote-buying etc) also happened under his watch, but following inquiries, no action was taken against him.

None of this here is original research, but it may make you think about the IOC a bit differently. I must admit, for an apparently non-political organisation, the IOC seems to have helped form an international endorsement of some nasty authoritarian regimes. China anyone?

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