Did Juan Antonio Samaranch revolutionize the Olympic Games?

This sporting event changed radically after the management of this president

Did Juan Antonio Samaranch revolutionize the Olympic Games?

Leer en español: ¿Por qué Juan Antonio Samaranch revolucionó los Juegos Olímpicos?

Juan Antonio Samaranch, illustrious Catalan (Barcelona, ​​July 17, 1920), of short stature and serene gaze, never imagined that he would completely change the Olympic Games’ event. Samaranch was elected President of the International Olympic Committee in the 83rd Session, held in the city of Moscow in 1980, where the XXII edition of the Summer Olympic Games would take place. Samaranch would hold this position for a period of twenty-one years.

His actions began in the 1950s, when he served as a sports journalist as a special envoy to the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games until almost the end of his life as Honorary President.

The real "gamechanger"

The name of Samaranch is a symbol of renewal, innovation, and evolution, when the bureaucratic structures of the moment were totally rigid. To understand the entire organizational structure of the modern Olympic Games, we must understand the origin of the change.

Samaranch assumed an International Olympic Committee (IOC) immersed in a large financial deficit on the verge of bankruptcy, structurally disorganized, where the participation of the States was fundamental, almost dependent on its maintenance. Samaranch was in charge of all internal restructuring work and obtained that the IOC financing came from private sources. In this way, the IOC was transformed into an independent and autonomous management entity, both politically and financially.

The conception of Olympic sponsorship and the sale of their rights as a registered trademark was what saved the entity from economic decline. The profits of the IOC, the sponsoring companies, and the host cities of the Olympic Games can speak for themselves. The IOC became a profitable company, leaving behind the figures in red.

There are detractors regarding the overreaching regarding the commercialization of the events. However, what cannot be objected is that the International Olympic Committee, under the registered trademark of the Olympic Games and the Five Aros, have generated billionaire profits that even allowed the creation of a fund called Olympic Solidarity. This fund has allowed financing athletes from developing countries, where their federations and Olympic Committees do not have economic support or sponsorship to pay for the preparation and training.

In times of the Cold War, two antagonistic conceptions such as Capitalism and Communism were manifested not only in the political-ideological aspect, but in the sports field. The ideological differences in the sports field led to the boycott of various events, including the Olympic Games. Examples of the above are the cases of Moscow 1980 and Los Angeles 1984. In his passage as ambassador, prior to the Presidency of the IOC, Samaranch made an important lobby with the countries of Eastern Europe to avoid the political boycotts of these sporting events.

From the management of Samaranch the following achievements can be mentioned:

  • Increase in the number of States participating in the Olympic Games.
  • Participation of professional athletes in order to encourage the increase of the competitive level of athletes.
  • Combat racial discrimination in sport.
  • Promote the anti-doping fight and the creation of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
  • Encourage the participation of more women in both sports and management.
  • Promote the creation of the Court of Arbitration in Sport in 1983 and the International Council of Arbitration in Sport in 1993.
  • Samaranch fulfilled his dream that his hometown was selected as the venue for the Olympic Games, giving Barcelona a tourist boost and increasing investment levels.

Olympism vs Mercantilism

There are conflicting positions regarding the management of Samaranch. Those in favor consider that Samaranch rescued the organism from the abyss in which it found itself, giving it a new focus and impulse to what we know today. On the other hand, there are detractors who believe that Samaranch "commercialized" the Olympic Games and distorted the spirit of Olympism.

Like everything in life, nothing is perfect, but it is undeniable the hard work of this dreamer man produced a total change in this sports organization. Samaranch established a new conception of the Olympic Games as a universal spectacle, for some, and "commercialized" games, for others. In addition, the work of Samaranch was transformed into a management model for different sports organizations, especially international federations. These entities have carried out processes of reengineering and organizational development to be sustainable over time through trademark and broadcasting rights, sports sponsorship, merchandising, box office, sports tour packages, among others. In this sense, Samaranch could be considered as a visionary who has left his mark.


Latin American Post | Gabriel Moros
Translated from “¿Juan Antonio Samaranch revolucionó los Juegos Olímpicos?"

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