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Wednesday, March 17, 1999 Published at 11:03 GMT


Samaranch the survivor

Samaranch welcomes Nelson Mandela's South Africa back into the Olympic fold

Heads may be rolling in the Olympic movement, as the allegations of corruption multiply by the day - but the most powerful figure of them all is unlikely to be one of them.

Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, is now set to see out his term, before retiring in 2001.

Despite calls for his resignation, the 78-year-old Spaniard has shown himself to be one of the great survivors of international sport, despite being dogged by controversy throughout his Olympic career.

Lord of the rings

For 19 years Samaranch has presided over the IOC.

He is credited with salvaging the movement from the wreckage of the USA's 1980 boycott of the Moscow Games and the tit-for-tat move by the Eastern Bloc in Los Angeles four years later.

He has helped turn the Olympics into an enormous commercial operation, with its five-ringed symbol one of the most recognisable images on the planet.

[ image: Friend to presidents: Samaranch and Bill Clinton in Atlanta]
Friend to presidents: Samaranch and Bill Clinton in Atlanta
In 1996 he incurred the wrath of the whole of Atlanta. In his speech at the closing ceremony, he pointedly declined to give the city the accolade of hosting the "greatest Games in history", as he has done at the end of previous summer and winter Olympics.

And last year he created a major storm with his highly controversial views on drugs in sport - the issue that has harmed the Olympics more than any other during his 19-year tenure.

He demanded a radical overhaul of doping control to allow athletes to use "harmless" performance-enhancing drugs. But his call led to widespread condemnation from the medical fraternity, former athletes and anti-drug campaigners.

But the latest scandal is potentially the most damaging of all. Samaranch has become embroiled in the allegations of bribery of IOC delegates, which focus in particular on the decision to award the 2002 winter Olympics to Salt Late City.

Samaranch has himself been accused of receiving gifts - in the form of two guns - from Salt Lake.

"I did receive two firearms as a gift," he admitted, "the arms in question being a .22 long rifle and a Browning. I did not want to refuse these presents because, in these towns, arms part of a certain tradition. To refuse them would have been an outrage."

But while other IOC delegates have been forced out of office over the affair, Samaranch won a massive vote of confidence by IOC committee members in March and seems set to survive.

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