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When Avery Brundage, the intractable, uncompromising, often tactless and undiplomatic Chicagoan who had been head of the U.S. Olympic Association for 23 years, was elected president of the International Olympic Committee in Helsinki in 1952, he reached the absolute pinnacle of his remarkable career in athletic officialdom. The International Olympic Committee—or Comit� International Olympique, to give it its formal name—is the most important and most influential sports governing body in the world—the proprietor, so to speak, of the Olympic Games.
It is therefore no exaggeration to say that the president of the IOC is the most powerful man in sport. He gives advice to this international group and presides at its meetings. He appoints members of its executive committee and guides that potent body in its deliberations. He wields great influence over the entire organization of international sport through his decisions, his counseling letters, his public statements. He holds his office for eight years, and there is ample precedent for re-election. In the 62-year history of the IOC only three men other than Brundage have held the office, and one of these was the patron saint of the Olympic movement, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who conceived the idea of the modern Olympics, was instrumental in the organization, execution and success of the first Games at Athens in 1896 and almost singlehandedly kept the Olympic idea alive through its shaky early years.
For the IOC to entrust this vital office to Avery Brundage was a tremendous compliment to his integrity, for the job, dealing as it often does with ticklish matters of national pride and international jealousy, might well have gone to a quiet moderate from some pleasantly innocuous "small" country rather than a controversial, outspoken American. But Brundage, who looks, as someone once said, like Oliver Cromwell's idea of God, righteous and inflexible, was the man the IOC wanted.
AT HOME IN THE IOC
Their decision does not seem to have awed Brundage. An extraordinarily self-possessed and confident man, he is very much at home as president of the IOC and absolutely sure of his ability to be both correct and impartial.
"When I used to represent the U.S. at meetings of the International Amateur Athletic Federation," he said recently in his office in Chicago's La Salle Hotel before leaving for the Winter Games in Italy, "I was out to get all I could for the U.S. All right. But in the International Olympic Committee I am not a representative of the U.S. I represent the International Olympic Committee in the United States. It's not like the U.N., where each country is a member. In our committee individuals are members, not countries. A country doesn't elect its members to the committee. The committee elects a member from the country."
Brundage sat up straight behind his desk, intent on making the distinction clearly understood.
"As a member of the committee, my first allegiance is to a principle—the principle of the Olympic movement as stated by the Baron de Coubertin 60 years ago. Members of the committee cannot be pre-instructed by their countries. We are all dedicated to a principle and an idea."
Brundage sat back and folded his hands over his abdomen.
"Now," he said, "the principle, the idea, is simply this: that sport, in addition to building strong and healthy bodies and developing a man's character—his self-control, poise, perseverance and so on—has definite moral virtue. Fair play and good sportsmanship are an integral part of sport, and what are they? They're no more nor less than an expression of the Golden Rule.