Two days before the Summer Games opened in his native city, International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch announced that he was seeking another four-year term. During the 12 years he has already served, Samaranch, 72, has virtually eliminated the hypocrisy of "shamateurism" in the Olympics, put the Games on firm financial ground and, through his considerable diplomatic skills and relentless globe-trotting, helped make the Barcelona Olympics the first boycott-free Summer Games since 1972.
But recent months have been rocky for the IOC and Samaranch. Former U.S. Olympic Committee president Robert Helmick, who was also an IOC member, resigned in disgrace last year when it was learned he was using those posts to benefit himself in his business dealings. A controversial book, The Lords of the Rings, published several months ago in England, discusses in embarrassing detail the inner workings of the IOC, the alleged corruption of some IOC officials, Samaranch's seemingly autocratic style and his staunchly Francoist past. Asked at a press conference last week whether he regretted his role in that fascist regime, Samaranch unflinchingly replied, "I am very proud of my past, you can be sure."
On the eve of the Barcelona Games, Samaranch talked with SI managing editor Mark Mulvoy, assistant managing editor Jerry Kirshenbaum and senior writer E.M. Swift.
Sports Illustrated: Mr. Samaranch, did you ever dream you would see the day when the biggest-name athletes at the Olympics were a bunch of multimillionaire professional basketball players? Is this a shock?
Juan Antonio Samaranch: The world is changing. Maybe you in the United States have the perception we are opening the Games to professionals. But for many years in the Olympic Games, professionals from Europe were playing. Spain. Italy. France. Germany. And not only from these countries, but 100 percent of the athletes from the Communist countries. They were more professional than the professionals from the United States. What we are doing now is providing the possibility to have all the best in the Games.
SI: Given the increasing commercialization of the Olympics, isn't it inevitable that someday there will be advertising at the Games on uniforms and billboards?
JAS: We have to keep the Olympics different in some way, no?
SI: With reference to the Helmick scandal, there's a perception in the U.S. that he's the tip of the iceberg, that corruption among IOC members is rampant.
JAS: I have to trust the IOC members. What happened with Helmick is something we regret very much.
SI: Are you suggesting Helmick is an isolated case?