The Corner

Olympic Spirit 2

Via The Independent:

Israel’s President Shimon Peres has cancelled his planned visit to the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony after the organisers refused his request to sleep in the Olympic Village to avoid travelling by car on the Jewish Sabbath. Mr Peres’ staff  made the request when they realised that the ceremony would extend well beyond sundown on Friday 27 July. This meant the 88-year-old President would need to walk back from the ceremony to maintain respect for the Sabbath. Although not religiously observant, Mr Peres does not make public journeys by car on the Sabbath.  But Mr Peres’s office was told by Lord Coe, chairman of the London Organising Committee of the Games (LOCOG), that rules precluded anyone staying in the Village other than athletes. Nor was it possible to find suitable hotel accommodation within walking distance of the stadium.

As a result the President’s office said today: “The president decided to cancel his visit and not desecrate Shabbat. The president wishes good luck to the Israeli athletes.”

Ayelet Frisch, spokesperson for the President, said Mr Peres did not see himself as “elevated above others” and that “if there are rules he accepts and understands them.” She said that the problem had been avoided at Beijing four years ago because accommodation had been found two minutes away from where the ceremony was held.

Ms Frisch said there was “no connection whatsoever” between his decision and the separate campaign by Israel for a minute’s silence to be held at the opening ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre, when Palestinian gunmen killed 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Games.

As at past Games, the International Olympic committee refused the request though Lord Coe will reportedly hold a “personal moment’ to mark the anniversary.

As I’ve mentioned before, the Olympics’ organizers and the U.N. do have quite a bit in common.

Coe doubtless had another “personal moment” to mark the victims of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan when he was in Moscow for the 1980 games despite requests by Mrs. Thatcher not to attend.#more#

Going there gave him his first gold medal, and something else besides. More Than Games reports:

In hindsight however, Coe’s decision to compete in Moscow has been lauded and is one of the key reasons he is held in such high regard within the Olympic Movement. In 1980, the Olympics were in decline, just eight years after the fatal terrorist attack at Munich 1972 and with a number of high profile countries boycotting the Moscow Games. Juan Antonio Samaranch had only just taken his position as IOC president, an organisation in financial crisis in the 1970s, and with Los Angeles set to host the 1984 Games, more boycotting from the Soviet bloc was inevitable. Coe’s decision therefore to compete in Moscow and his memorable tussles with compatriot Steve Ovett have not been forgotten in the corridors of power in Lausanne.

Samaranch was another charmer. This is an extract from an FT obituary written in 2010:

 Samaranch was the great survivor. Probably the last of his generation of European fascist politicians to remain active in public life, Samaranch reinvented himself to the degree that his supporters proposed him as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize…In the 1950s he entered politics via Barcelona city council, later joining Franco’s rubber-stamp Cortes, Spain’s upper house of parliament. In the last years of the dictatorship, Samaranch was appointed political chief of Catalonia, wearing fascist uniform and giving the right-arm salute until Franco’s death in 1975.

As late as 1971 he told a local paper: “I’m a man loyal to all that Franco represents. I’m a man of the Movimiento and of course I’m going to remain loyal for the rest of my life.”

From the mid-1950s, he sought an alternative career. He became a sports official, signing his letters to government officials: ” Siempre a tus ordenes te saluda brazo en alto ” – “I am always at your service with my arm raised.”

A place was found for Samaranch on the IOC in 1966 and he climbed the ladder. On becoming president in 1980, he called an Olympic convention and pushed through opening the games to professional athletes, which increased the value of the TV and marketing contracts – the latter going to his patron Horst Dassler’s ISL company. Revenues soared and Samaranch ensured he gave his IOC members a five-star lifestyle, flying first class and staying in top hotels.

By the end of 1998, Samaranch’s reputation hit rock bottom as evidence emerged some IOC members had taken cash and other favours to give their votes to Salt Lake City for the winter Olympics of 2002.

Every accusation of corruption from the 1980s through the 1990s was met with Samaranch’s mantra: “My members are clean and I trust them 100 per cent.”




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