Juan Antonio Samaranch Torelló was a man with two great causes in his life: to promote Spanish sport and bring the Olympic Games to his city, Barcelona. He achieved both, a double feat whose magnificent consequences can be fully appreciated from the perspective of the thirty years that have elapsed since Barcelona hosted the Olympics in 1992. A sportsman himself, in boxing first and then in roller hockey, he was also a sports journalist for a time, but, thanks to the Falange (the party of dictator Francisco Franco), of which he was a member, he quickly found his way into posts that would allow him to develop his vocation: city councillor in Barcelona, president of the Barcelona Provincial Council, Head of Sport for Spain...
Samaranch promotes Spanish sport
Samaranch reached this position, which included the two current posts of Secretary of State for Sport and President of the Spanish Olympic Committee, on the recommendation of Raimundo Saporta, Santiago Bernabéu’s right-hand man (Bernabéu being president of Real Madrid). José Solís, Minister for the National Movement (which oversaw sport), was looking for a successor for Elola-Olaso in December 1966. Saporta recommended Samaranch. “But he is Catalan!” said Solís. The reply explained everything: “Minister, in Madrid we have football, but where sport is developed is in Barcelona. It’s the right move.” Solís picked Samaranch and indeed it was the right move. His motto of ‘We’re counting on you’ led many to take up playing sport, at the same time as he promoted the construction of sports facilities.
President of the IOC, Olympics in Barcelona
In 1977 he managed to be sent to Moscow as ambassador, where he garnered contacts from the communist world which would allow him obtain the presidency of the IOC. Once he’d managed that, he landed the unforgettable Olympic Games in Barcelona, that saw an end to a period of boycotts and made way for professionalism. Those Games marked a before and after not only for Barcelona but for the whole of Spain, though his record as a member of Franco’s Falange makes his memory uncomfortable for some today. Far be it from me to hark back to the values Francoism, entirely unacceptable in their essence, but Samaranch was a man who tenaciously pursued the two great causes of his life, in the times in which he lived. And we owe him a lot.