In 1985, Samaranch brought about the resignation of Monique Berlioux, the imperious executive director who, during the years of absentee presidencies, had come to run the IOC pretty much as her own fiefdom. With Berlioux gone, Samaranch reigned alone. He has gathered a variegated group of IOC-member confidants into his inner circle. They include Pound, Marc Hodler of Switzerland and Alexandru Siperco of Romania. These men are closer to the president than anyone else in the IOC—but not one of them is Samaranch's closest confidant and adviser.
No, that place is reserved for one very powerful businessman: Horst Dassler, 50, the brilliant billionaire head of the Adidas empire. European journalists routinely refer to Dassler, who is from West Germany, as "the most powerful man in sports"—and this has much less to do with his proximity to Samaranch's ear than with the vast influence he has wielded as chief of Adidas. The company was founded in 1920 by Horst's father, Adi Dassler, a master shoemaker who gave a truncated version of his name—Adi-Das—to the firm that has grown to be a $1.9 billion-a-year business operating in 48 countries. Adi died in 1978 and Horst inherited the enterprise. Through contracts for shoes, clothes and equipment, plus a hardheaded understanding of the politics and personalities that control world sports, Dassler has direct lines of power that run through countless national teams, national Olympic committees, and national and world sports federations, to say nothing of the IOC itself. "The man has simply embraced the whole Olympic movement," says Rodda. Dassler and his products are as ubiquitous as air in the world of sport. Athletes of the Eastern bloc all wear Adidas products, as do the great majority of Third World competitors and some very wealthy Westerners like Edwin Moses.
Samaranch and Dassler are rarely seen together in public, and Rodda says, "Theirs is not an overt relationship." But the two men stay in close touch, and there are some insiders at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, who believe that Dassler delivered the votes to elect Samaranch in 1980 and that he also produced the votes this past October that made Barcelona, Samaranch's home town, the host city for the 1992 Summer Games.
Samaranch has no use for these rumors. Pound declares flatly, "The influence of Horst Dassler has been grossly exaggerated." Dassler himself speaks of it all with quiet derision. He told SI's Anita Verschoth: "That is nonsense about my delivering the votes for Barcelona. I have no influence over IOC votes. Our products do put me in frequent contact with numerous national Olympic committees as well as sports federations, but not with members of the IOC. Certainly, I have a friendly relationship with Samaranch, but I had the same with Brundage and Killanin. And, whoever said I influenced Samaranch's election as president is utterly wrong. He won by a landslide. If I had influenced his victory by such a margin, it certainly would not have remained a secret. In general, Samaranch does not ask for my advice when he makes a decision. All I want is to remain neutral in my relations with Samaranch and the IOC. And that is what I am."
Perhaps that is true—in general. Yet the fact is, Dassler has been far from neutral in the Olympic movement's great new venture into global merchandising. He has been not only prominent, but dominant.
In May 1985, a Swiss-based firm called International Sports & Leisure (ISL) signed a contract to become the world's exclusive agent for selling the Olympic emblem to international corporations that wish to use it for merchandising their products. ISL is a company with two divisions: One is called ISL Licensing and is owned 100% by Dassler and his family. The other is called ISL Marketing and is owned 51% by the Dasslers and 49% by Dentsu, a Japanese public relations firm.
Dassler restructured ISL in September 1982—it had been a small-scale operation since '78—to help market Adidas products and to merchandise major sporting events such as soccer's World Cup and the world volleyball championships. ISL was asked by the IOC to come up with a presentation for marketing the Olympic emblem, and in the spring of 1983, ISL salesmen attended a meeting of the full IOC in New Delhi. At a session of an 11-member group called the Commission of New Sources of Financing, ISL made a video presentation to explain its concept and programs for becoming the IOC's sole worldwide marketing agent. When the ISL sales pitch was finished, Reggie Alexander, an IOC member from Kenya and a notorious gadfly, said, "Who's next?" The chairman of the commission, IOC member Louis Guirandou-N'Diaye of the Ivory Coast, said soothingly, "Oh, I don't think we need to hear from anyone else about this idea." All other members of the commission sat silent.
There was no protest, inside or outside the IOC, over a possible Samaranch-Dassler connection or the fact that no other firms were asked to bid. "I think it was only after the IOC was actually signed on a piece of paper that it was apparent to all IOC members that Dassler controlled ISL," said Rodda.
Dassler himself explains the ISL contract this way: "What people don't realize is that the IOC is not our main partner in the contract. Our main partners are the Calgary and Seoul Olympic organizing committees for the '88 Games and the national Olympic committees. The rights to the Olympic rings belong, in fact, to every NOC. So if you do not have a contract with the most important NOCs, then a contract with the IOC would mean nothing. What ISL did after the presentation in New Delhi was to go out and sign more than 80 contracts with individual NOCs, as well as with Calgary and Seoul. Because we signed them all, the IOC was able to give its nod to us in the spring of 1985. This was not really a bidding situation because ISL had to sign individual contracts with each of those many separate NOC partners to get a contract with the IOC. We have now signed 134 NOCs."
Dassler has patterned the ISL operation directly after Peter Ueberroth's successful dollar-making approach to the selling of the 1984 Los Angeles Games. "What you must do," says Dassler, "is offer the biggest companies all-inclusive rights as sponsors of the Olympics or you won't get the biggest contracts. Ueberroth began the idea of selling sponsorships. It was a terrific idea and it is an example we are pleased to follow. But we are able to offer more continuity for longer periods of time because organizing committees such as the one in Los Angeles are only in business for a few years. We are also able to guarantee worldwide exclusive use of the Olympic emblems to our clients because we are representing the IOC and all of those 134 [out of 164] NOCs, not just one organizing committee."