The Lords of the Rings

In Salt Lake Olympic Scandal, The Accused Are Less the Problem Than Some of Their Judges

The media was electrified by last December's disclosures of payoffs in Salt Lake City. But even as the noisy reporters clamored for explanations, Samaranch had more pressing matters on his mind. Coming up was the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Samaranch was working on his press release.

"The desire to create a culture of democracy, justice, peace, solidarity and respect for fundamental and universal ethical principles," he trumpeted, "has been omnipresent in the activities undertaken by the IOC since its creation."

Samaranch loves to spout human rights these days. A bit more guff like that and he thinks they'll give him the Nobel Peace Prize. But he didn't always speak this language. Fifty years ago, as the world recovered from World War II, one country was out of step. Spain's dictator Franco had backed the Nazi cause, and his regime survived the war. One of his young acolytes was Samaranch.

Hear no evil: IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch.
AP/Wide World
Hear no evil: IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch.

Samaranch loyally played his part suppressing civil liberties and rose to become the Generalissimo's sports minister, delivering virile muscularity to enhance the regime's image. According to reports from Spain, he continued giving the fascist salute right up until the dictator's death in 1975. By this time Samaranch was a vice president of the IOC.

His colleagues didn't mind a bit. Why should they? Samaranch wasn't alone. For years the IOC has been a safe haven for old fascists in a hostile world, a place where memories of the 1936 Berlin Olympics— the Hitler Games— are fond ones.

The old goose-stepper, now a sprightly 78, has a dilemma this week. On the list of bribe takers is South Korea's other member, Kim Un Yong. Samaranch calls Kim "his most trusted lieutenant." According to reports, jobs were arranged for his children and paid for by the Salt Lake City organizing committee. Scandal observers agree that whether the IOC kicks Kim out or not will be the ultimate measuring stick of how serious the organization is about reforming itself.

But why Kim was allowed membership on the committee in the first place is a mystery. According to documents unearthed in Washington, Kim was a longtime senior officer with the South Korean intelligence service. They had a record of kidnapping dissidents who had fled South Korea and taking them home for torture and execution.

Kim has hired New York lawyers and a publicist to massage the media. The charges against him and his children are quite clear (though Kim denies knowledge that the arrangements were made on his children's behalf). But the old fascist survivor Samaranch seems to want to retain Kim, who is said to be in line for the IOC presidency. It only figures, Kim is also a survivor of a similar fascist dictatorship.

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