BOOKS

Greed at the Games

THE LORDS OF THE RINGS: POWER, MONEY AND DRUGS IN THE MODERN OLYMPICS By Vyv Simson and Andrew Jennings

CHRIS WOOD July 27 1992
BOOKS

Greed at the Games

THE LORDS OF THE RINGS: POWER, MONEY AND DRUGS IN THE MODERN OLYMPICS By Vyv Simson and Andrew Jennings

CHRIS WOOD July 27 1992

Greed at the Games

Drugs and money have scarred the Olympics

BOOKS

THE LORDS OF THE RINGS: POWER, MONEY AND DRUGS IN THE MODERN OLYMPICS By Vyv Simson and Andrew Jennings

(Stoddart, 291 pages, $26.95)

The red-and-white uniforms that Canada’s athletes will wear in Barcelona for the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games display three words: Canada, Barcelona—and Adidas. The presence of the international sportswear-maker’s logo on each Canadian competitor’s outfit is a testament to more than the company’s contribution to the national Olympic effort. It is also a telling illustration of the pervasive power of cash over the once genuinely amateur games, an influence that British investigative journalists Vyv Simson and Andrew Jennings document to damning effect in their recent book, The Lords of the Rings. With a thoroughness that leaves little room for skepticism, the two authors trace the ways in which, as former British Olympic coach Ron Pickering says, the Olympic ideals of fair play and competition have “been violated by greed, by hypocrisy, by cant and by political intrusion. And by bad leadership.”

The book’s title is derivative, but it is also apt. In J. R. R. Tolkien’s masterpiece of fantasy, The Lord of the Rings, a character named Sauron weaves an empire of dread around 13 magic rings. In the documentary account, International Olympic Committee (ioc) president Juan Antonio Samaranch appears as a dictatori-

al quasi-monarch transforming the five Olympic rings into a symbol of unchecked selfindulgence. Among his leading lieutenants, according to the authors, are Primo Nebiolo, the head of the International Amateur Athletics Federation, Horst Dassler, the former chairman of Adidas Co., and Richard Pound, a Montreal lawyer who helps negotiate lucrative contracts for TV coverage of the Games.

The authors credit Dassler, who died in 1987, with first recognizing the huge moneyspinning potential of the Olympic Games. They trace how he used generous gifts of sports equipment and lavish entertainment to secure Adidas sponsorship of high-profile events. His influence reached its zenith in 1983, when another Dassler company, ISL Marketing of Lucerne, Switzerland, obtained the rights to market the Games worldwide. Simson and Jennings quote a former Dassler partner, Patrick Nally, who bluntly told them: “Horst became the puppet-master of the sporting world.”

To what extent Samaranch was ever a Dassler puppet is unclear; instead, he emerges as more of a co-conspirator. Noting that Samaranch, 72, was a loyal member of former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco’s 36-year Fascist regime, they write that, not unlike Franco, “the IOC leader . . . sits on top of a structure where practices considered corrupt in any other sphere of life appear to be accepted as the norm.” One especially disturbing practice that the authors accuse the IOC president of tolerating is widespread use of per-

formance-enhancing drugs (page 48).

Buttressing Samaranch’s power are several significant facts. For one thing, only Samaranch may nominate new members of the IOC. And, once elected, members swear to express no public disagreement with any IOC decision. But most important of all, there are no government checks on the IOC’s autonomy or the power of its president. Concluded one IOC member about Samaranch’s status: “He is just like royalty.”

The other 93 IOC members enjoy a ceaseless round of first-class travel and audiences with world leaders, admiring media and unctuous % lobbying from cities eager to host the next g Olympics. The last is especially lucrative: the I British authors report that the 13 cities that g competed for the 1992 Winter or Summer g Games spent a combined total of $76 million on I their bids—nearly $ 1 million for each potential ioc vote.

There are shortcomings to Jennings’s and Simson’s book. The large number of typographical errors reflects the haste with which it was completed (the authors concluded their reporting only in March). And neither Samaranch nor any of its other main targets is heard to respond directly to the authors’ charges. Still, the weight of evidence that they have assembled is both convincing and disturbing. The Lords of the Rings will provoke questions that endure long after the Olympic flame is snuffed out in Barcelona.

CHRIS WOOD