After decades of moralistic breast-beating over the corruption that money supposedly imparts to the essence of sport, the Olympic movement has at last openly—even proudly—capitulated to the formerly unthinkable. It has embraced the ways of professional sport and accepted the means of the marketplace as being the only logical vehicles by which the Olympic Ideal can be transported, alive and thriving, through the rest of the 20th century and on into the 21st.
The change has been going on for a number of years, but it has occurred in such a gradual and subtle fashion that until recently, only International Olympic Committee insiders and the most attentive outsiders were aware of the extremity of the upheaval taking place. The Olympics are not only in business these days, they are business. And in certain areas, they are the ultimate in business. For example:
1) The ultimate in merchandising and commercialization. Since June 1985 the Olympic rings have been up for sale to any international corporation interested in using an Olympic connection in its worldwide marketing programs. So far $104 million has been received for the privilege of using the rings to sell the products and services of Eastman Kodak, Coca-Cola, Visa, Time Inc., Federal Express and 3M. The IOC expects eventually to put the Olympic imprimatur on enough other products to bring in as much as half a billion dollars by 1988.
2) The ultimate in creating new markets and sales opportunities for commercial television. Four months ago, the IOC voted overwhelmingly (78-2) to split the Winter and Summer Olympics into alternating two-year cycles beginning with the Winter Games of 1994. This was done for a variety of financial reasons, but mainly to ease the troubles that American TV networks have had in getting advertisers to buy time on their sports programs—not just the Olympics, but all sports programs.
3) The ultimate in sports professionalism. The Winter and Summer Olympics of 1992 will be remembered as the last two ever held in the same year, but they may loom even bigger in history because of the extent to which recognized professional athletes will, at least in some sports, be welcomed. There won't be nearly as much of a fuss as before over whether would-be Olympic athletes are or are not amateurs.
What does it all mean? It means a revolutionary new entry into reality and it is very exciting. But if you ask the man most responsible what he thinks, you will get a vapid line of platitudes. IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain is a former diplomat, a consummate politician and a wily executive. Yet when you ask the master designer of this upheaval in the Olympic movement about what he has wrought, he tends to say things that no one takes note of: "We must live with the times.... We have to go ahead, we can't go backward...."
So it is best to find someone else to talk about the new Olympics. The man who does it better than anyone—and acts as a sort of informal spokesman for the IOC and for the cautious Mr. Samaranch—is Richard W. Pound, 44, a large, vigorous lawyer from Montreal, for nine years a member of the IOC and for four a member of the organization's executive board. Pound is smart, articulate and candid, and is seen by many as a possible candidate to take over the IOC presidency when Samaranch retires, which could be in 1992.
Pound is an unabashed admirer of Samaranch—and of the change he has brought about. "Juan Antonio Samaranch is a pragmatist," says Pound. "He is also a man who understands symbolism as well as diplomacy. He is, in my opinion, already one of the three great IOC presidents—the other two being de Coubertin and Brundage. It is because of Samaranch that the Olympics have come to grips with the realities of the world. The global marketing of the Games was originated by him and it had to be done for the Olympics to survive. In terms of opening the Games to professionals, he has favored it for a long time. This is a move that simply legalizes what's already gone on for quite a while in many sports. No more will athletes or officials have to close their eyes, hold their noses and sign a form that requires them to lie about the truth of their lives and careers."
The new Olympic pragmatism is a powerfully positive force. It injects a stream of cash and commercial energy into the Games, and it pretty much eliminates the smog of shamateurism. And to all this, as Pound says, Samaranch is the key. He was elected president of the IOC in July 1980, when Lord Killanin of Ireland stepped down after eight exhausting years. Samaranch won easily, and the most important thing about his victory was that he planned to spend 100% of his time on the job. This was a first for IOC presidents—and it was essential. Pound says, "The Olympics were in a period of crisis then with the boycotts and the other problems. Los Angeles's great success was still four years away. It seemed that great losses were possible at the time. Killanin was a nice man, a fine man, but he was not a full-time president and he had not been physically strong enough to deal with the problems."
John Rodda of the British newspaper the Guardian is one of Europe's leading Olympic journalists, and he says of Samaranch: "The man treats it as a business. With Brundage and Killanin it was rather a polite club, and they just oversaw things. Samaranch never really stops. He got all those cities to bid for the 1992 Games and he has added new sports—baseball in '92, can you believe that? He is promoting Olympic philately and Olympic films. When he travels, he acts like a head of state. It's all a bit pompous, but whenever he sees a problem in a country, he can ring up the head of state and speak like an equal."