Samaranch defends nominating son for IOC post

If the White House can have a Bush dynasty, why can't the IOC have a Samaranch family legacy?

So argued IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch on Friday in defending his decision to nominate his son as a committee member.

Critics described Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr.'s nomination as a case of blatant nepotism. But the elder Samaranch, who steps down in July after 21 years as president, wondered what all the fuss was about.

"It's nothing new in the history of the IOC," Samaranch said, listing nine other members -- including several royals -- who followed their fathers as Olympic delegates.

"To have a son succeed the father -- in the United States you have very good examples," he said, referring to George W. Bush following his father as president.

Samaranch Jr., a 41-year-old Spanish businessman known by friends as Juanito, was one of seven candidates nominated as new members Thursday by the IOC's ruling executive board.

Samaranch said his son was qualified to serve on the IOC because he has been a member of an Olympic sports body -- the modern pentathlon federation -- for 20 years and currently is a first vice-president of the association.

He disputed suggestions that the nomination backtracked on the IOC's efforts to reform itself in the wake of the Salt Lake City scandal. "I cannot understand (the criticism)," he said. "This is in line (with IOC changes). I proposed my son with the agreement of the executive board of the IOC because I think my son can be a good member of the IOC.

"This is not so important. I am not proposing him as president. I am proposing him only as a member. He is not designated. He is only a candidate."

The election of members takes place at Moscow July 16, the same day Samaranch's successor will be chosen. Members proposed by the executive board are virtually assured of being elected.

Samaranch and the IOC have insisted the organization has become more democratic, transparent and representative since the Salt Lake scandal. But critics said the nomination of his son showed the IOC still was a self-appointing private club.

"This is Samaranch's last gasp of nepotism, which has characterized his entire reign," said Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican whose commerce committee held Congressional hearings in 1999 into the Olympic scandal.

Anita DeFrantz, the IOC vice-president from the United States, defended the nomination.

"It's not unusual to have a son (serve as a member)," she said. "I've known Juanito for quite some time. He has been active in sport for some time. I've watched him grow up."

Asked about perceptions that the IOC appeared to be reverting to an old boys club, DeFrantz said the organization and the Olympics had survived more than a century through two world wars and the Cold War.

"Those were the people who accomplished that, so there is something to that old IOC as well," she said. "Let's not forget that. Now we have changed."

DeFrantz said she would try to explain the situation to critics in the United States.

"I hope I'll have a chance to speak with the folks who've asked the questions," she said. "It's difficult for folks to understand until they've talked to us."

On other issues:

  • Samaranch said it was up to Osaka, Japan, and Istanbul to decide whether they want to withdraw from the race for the 2008 Summer Games.

    While Beijing, Paris and Toronto were all rated as "excellent" bids, an official IOC evaluation report cited considerable risks with Osaka and Istanbul.

    The IOC board considered forcing the two cities to drop out, but decided to let them go forward to the July 13 vote in Moscow.

    "It's up to them," Samaranch said. "They know they have less chances of being elected, but they can go to the final."

  • A year after Samaranch warned that the 2004 Athens Games were in jeopardy because of chronic delays, the IOC gave organizers another vote of confidence, saying preparations were back on track but that no further time could be lost.

  • Denis Oswald, a Swiss IOC member and head of the international rowing federation, was re-elected to a four-year term as president of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations. Mustapha Larfaoui, president of world swimming, was elected vice-president.

    Elected to the ruling body were Senegal's Lamine Diack, head of the International Amateur Athletic Federation; Hein Verbruggen, the Dutch head of world cycling; and Italy's Francesco Ricci Bitti, president of the international tennis federation.

  • The sports federations endorsed Lausanne as the permanent headquarters for the World Anti-Doping Agency. The agency, set up in 1999, has been based in Lausanne pending a final decision in August. Montreal had been a candidate city, as had Stockholm, Vienna and Bonn.

    Government officials have pushed for the agency to be moved out of Lausanne to assert its independence from the IOC. But Oswald said Lausanne is the "perfect location" because so many federations are based in the Swiss city.

    "Governments and politicians should forget about politics and choose efficiency," he said.

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