Summer of Samaranch

Another Dassler protégé in the Samaranch mold, the good professor of boxing follows the Samaranch playbook of appointment. One recent recruit is the boxing commission's business committee chair, Uzbeki businessman Gafur Rakhinov, who has been linked in European press reports to the Russian mafia and to his fledgling republic's booming heroin trade. One assumes that boxing will be among the less vigilantly guarded events in the Olympics' new regime of drug testing — though the IOC is still left with the ticklish dilemma of employing a business liaison who's been barred a visa in France and rushed out of the Czech Republic on grounds of his own reputed line of business.

It gets worse. Rakhinov is an old confrere of Andre Guelfi, who tended the troughs at the French oil company Elf, a money-laundering front for the Mitterand government's various extraofficial bribery initiatives. Guelfi is the bagman who made public (among many, many other things) the scandals that brought down Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrat government in Germany. Should reporters get too curious about this fetid strain of Olympic influence lubrication, Samaranch's supra Catholic Church could be in for something of a reformation.

But then again, by common, civilized consent — lubricated in some cases by a few contracts of their own — the media show precious little interest in the composition of the most powerful and lucrative body of world sport. Hardly any mainstream media outlets take note of Samaranch's peculiar political lineage. A recent New York Times assessment of the soon-to-be-retiring Samaranch's legacy (bearing the laughably inapposite headline "Savior or Spoiler?" as though the loyal Francoista were a pie-eyed third-party presidential candidate) managed to refer to his prior tenure as Spanish ambassador to Moscow without naming the sort of Spanish government he represented. Time, which coughs out glowing Olympic puff pieces like a random search engine for treacle, is one of the dozen big-donor corporations Samaranch has recruited to the elite Olympic marketing team known as The Olympics Program. Membership fees, like most things Olympian, are scrupulously guarded from public view, but they ran in the neighborhood of $30 million at the time of the group's founding in 1988. In the introduction to this year's lavish "Olympics Special" issue, Time writer Karl Taro Greenfield refers elliptically to Samaranch as "the autocratic Spaniard," as though privatization of the state and violent military suppression of dissent were charming Old World national traits. But then it seems that by mere habit of sponsorship, Time's own Olympic shilling has taken on a rather unwitting fascist tone of its own. "You can tell yourself you won't watch," Greenfield archly announces, "but you will" — conduct perhaps befitting a global audience that Greenfield primly characterizes as "the children we all become as we get lost in the spectacle." Let us admire the sporting displays, children, before the Leader's next speech! As for those nettlesome matters of official corruption, Greenfield reassures us that "the Olympics have never been any purer than the world from which they are supposed to be a respite." God damn that culture, anyway! Of course, the purblind antics of the NBC broadcast team are a wonder we're only beginning to behold, but they seem all but certain to produce such eyewash on a yet more epic scale, in line with the network's own $3.5 billion contract with the IOC to cover the Games through 2008.

Meanwhile, the British investigative journalist Andrew Jennings — whose trio of books on the IOC provide all of the foregoing edifying details, and a bracing dose more — has been the object of a criminal lawsuit in the IOC's host country of Switzerland. He's received a five-day suspended jail sentence for the grievous offence of producing a "particularly distasteful" impression of the IOC in his invaluable 1992 book The Lords of the Rings. Hapless Wall Street Journal reporter Craig Copetas, who has brought some of Jennings' revelations further into the light of day, and done some of his own digging into IOC state secrets, had his Lausanne hotel room broken into and tossed for documents, and received anonymous threatening phone calls commanding him to "Lay off the IOC" and — what amounts to the same thing — "Lay off Samaranch." (Then again, Coletas appears to have gotten off easy; the parents of a competing pianist who had the temerity to complain when their daughter was crowded off a Seoul symphony program to make way for ivory-tinkling IOC daughter Kim Hae-Jung received a telephone death threat.)

It seems, indeed, that after gnashing their teeth over the Salt Lake affair's impact on their business rounds, IOC members are preparing to take the gloves off and ponder a fresh new lawsuit — this time against Salt Lake impresarios Welch and Johnson, now indicted on federal conspiracy, fraud, and racketeering charges in the United States. It seems that in compiling notes on the specific graft needs and taste preferences of IOC members, the bribers of Salt Lake committed "a very serious breach of ethical principles," according to IOC Vice President Keba Mbaye, a former Senegalese judge. This could form the basis of a class-action libel suit in the agreeable, plaintiff-friendly courts of Switzerland. Italian IOC member Franco Carraro concurred. "Let's see if we can do something legally to defend our dignity," Carraro pompously suggested to his fellow board members, "by attacking those who continue to call our dignity into question." Even for the mind-bending hubris of the IOC the logic of this strategy is a little much — not unlike, say, a john suing a hooker on grounds of emotional distress. After all, if they had ever been serious about recouping their precious dignity, the leaders of the IOC would have sued themselves long ago. Ah, but let's just chalk it all up to the culture, children, and enjoy the Games.

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courtesy of Holly Martins

pictures Terry Colon

Holly Martins