When AveryBrundage, the intractable, uncompromising, often tactless and undiplomaticChicagoan who had been head of the U.S. Olympic Association for 23 years, waselected president of the International Olympic Committee in Helsinki in 1952,he reached the absolute pinnacle of his remarkable career in athleticofficialdom. The International Olympic Committee—or Comité InternationalOlympique, to give it its formal name—is the most important and mostinfluential sports governing body in the world—the proprietor, so to speak, ofthe Olympic Games.
This is an article from the Feb. 6, 1956 issue
It is thereforeno exaggeration to say that the president of the IOC is the most powerful manin sport. He gives advice to this international group and presides at itsmeetings. He appoints members of its executive committee and guides that potentbody in its deliberations. He wields great influence over the entireorganization of international sport through his decisions, his counselingletters, his public statements. He holds his office for eight years, and thereis ample precedent for re-election. In the 62-year history of the IOC onlythree men other than Brundage have held the office, and one of these was thepatron saint of the Olympic movement, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who conceivedthe idea of the modern Olympics, was instrumental in the organization,execution and success of the first Games at Athens in 1896 and almostsinglehandedly kept the Olympic idea alive through its shaky early years.
For the IOC toentrust this vital office to Avery Brundage was a tremendous compliment to hisintegrity, for the job, dealing as it often does with ticklish matters ofnational pride and international jealousy, might well have gone to a quietmoderate from some pleasantly innocuous "small" country rather than acontroversial, outspoken American. But Brundage, who looks, as someone oncesaid, like Oliver Cromwell's idea of God, righteous and inflexible, was the manthe IOC wanted.
AT HOME IN THEIOC
Their decisiondoes not seem to have awed Brundage. An extraordinarily self-possessed andconfident man, he is very much at home as president of the IOC and absolutelysure of his ability to be both correct and impartial.
"When I usedto represent the U.S. at meetings of the International Amateur AthleticFederation," he said recently in his office in Chicago's La Salle Hotelbefore leaving for the Winter Games in Italy, "I was out to get all I couldfor the U.S. All right. But in the International Olympic Committee I am not arepresentative of the U.S. I represent the International Olympic Committee inthe United States. It's not like the U.N., where each country is a member. Inour committee individuals are members, not countries. A country doesn't electits members to the committee. The committee elects a member from thecountry."
Brundage sat upstraight behind his desk, intent on making the distinction clearlyunderstood.
"As a memberof the committee, my first allegiance is to a principle—the principle of theOlympic movement as stated by the Baron de Coubertin 60 years ago. Members ofthe committee cannot be pre-instructed by their countries. We are all dedicatedto a principle and an idea."
Brundage sat backand folded his hands over his abdomen.
"Now," hesaid, "the principle, the idea, is simply this: that sport, in addition tobuilding strong and healthy bodies and developing a man's character—hisself-control, poise, perseverance and so on—has definite moral virtue. Fairplay and good sportsmanship are an integral part of sport, and what are they?They're no more nor less than an expression of the Golden Rule.
"Well. TheBaron de Coubertin saw this. And he was certain that if the youth of the worldcould be brought together in sport there could be no better way to promotemutual respect and understanding.
"Sport, inother words, is a valuable and desirable part of life. The Greeks knew this.Their culture was well rounded. Athletes met philosophers, dramatists, poets,sculptors on a common ground. Plato, the great thinker, was a greatathlete."
Brundage's facegrew almost reverent. He waved an arm.
"There. Thereyou had the ideal of a sound mind in a sound body."
He thoughtbriefly about Plato.
"Allright," he said, coming back to the subject. "The Olympic Games ofGreece. They were idealistic, semi-religious and strictly amateur. Theprinciple that prevailed was sport for the joy and value to be derived fromsport.
"For manycenturies, as long as they remained strictly amateur, they grew in importanceand significance. But what finally happened? Just what so often happens to afine, simple idea: it gets overladen with complications. That's what happenedin Greece. Victory became more important than taking part. Cities tried todemonstrate their superiority over other cities. They established specialtraining camps. They recruited athletes. They subsidized the best competitors.They gave special prizes and awards, all sorts of inducements. Winners wereeven given pensions for life. What happened? The Games degenerated, they losttheir purity, their simplicity, their idealism. And they were finallyabolished.
"Well!"he said, raising his voice. "That's a warning. Keep politics out of theOlympics! Keep professionalism out!
"These peoplewho say the Olympics should have open competition, let the professionalscompete—they don't know what they're talking about. If you do that, if you openthe Olympics to professional athletes, the Olympics won't last 10 minutes.Professionals! It's alien to the basic idea of the Olympic movement.
"The samething applies to broken time. What is broken time? It's payment to athletes fortime lost from work while they are competing in sports. Well. If they get paid,they're professionals; those are the rules. But now the argument is: change therules.
"Now," hesaid. "A young man is a great athlete and he represents his country in theOlympic Games. Should he receive reimbursement for the salary he loses? Well.He may be taken away from his work half a dozen times a year to defend hiscountry's honor or his city's or his club's. If you pay a man for participatingin the Olympic Games, why shouldn't you pay him for competing in internationalchampionships or national championships or regional championships or localchampionships, or any other event?
"The minute athing of this kind is started there would be no stopping it. The door would beopen to a thousand abuses. Hungary tried it with soccer players, back in the1920s. First they received payment for time lost in international competition.Then for national competition. Then for all competition. Then for time spent intraining. Finally it became too complicated to calculate, so a lump sum waspaid every month. Broken-time pay became a regular salary. For amateurathletes!
"We haveenough abuses as it is. Take the practice in the AAU of letting industrialbasketball teams compete in amateur tournaments. Why, at the world basketballchampionships in Buenos Aires in 1950 the American team was the DenverChevrolets. They played with the name Chevrolet written across theirshirts!"
"Well, theylost. And it served them right. But I was engaged in one of my customarycampaigns for pure amateurism in sport at the time, and don't think the othercountries didn't ask me about that! And don't think I haven't let the AAU knowhow I feel on the subject!"
OF ARMY ANDSTATE
"And there'sthe Army. For 30 years we tried unsuccessfully to get the Army to establish asports program. Now they finally have one. And it looks as if they've goneoverboard on it. Special camps. Special training. Exactly what we're accusingthe Russians of doing.
"The StateDepartment sponsors tours of our athletes to other countries. This sounds allright, on the surface. But what is it if it isn't using amateur athletes forpolitical purposes? That is another thing we accuse the Russians of doing.
"We hear allsorts of criticism of Soviet athletes. That they are paid. That the top starsget soft berths in the army and spend all their time in training, and that'swhy they're so good. That may well be. But if it is, it still isn't the answer.It isn't the reason why the Soviet has done so well in internationalcompetition. No. You've got to look further than that.
"TheCommunists have a vast national sport program that extends into every part ofthe Soviet Union. When I was there two summers ago I saw a district volley balltournament in which 900 teams were entered. I was told that there were 60,000soccer teams in the Ukraine alone.
"It's a hugeprogram. Facilities for sport are everywhere, and everyone takes part. Theshame of it is, they're doing just what we've been preaching for the past 30 or40 years."
He picked up apaper that discussed the Soviet sport program.
"Here: thestrong, brave and energetic builders of Communism. The training of youth. Thatcould be taken from a recommendation of the International Olympic Committee:promote training of youth. They do it. The Germans did the same thing under theNazis. And there's the shame of it. We've let the totalitarian countries takeover sport. They know its value. And they get stronger and stronger while weget softer and softer."
Brundage gloweredfrom behind his desk. Then he went on.
"Now. Thequestion is: are they using athletics to foster Communism? Well, certainly.It's too bad, but we can't prevent them from doing that. We can't questiontheir motives. We can question their methods, but their methods appear to beperfectly legitimate. And very impressive. When I was in Moscow I witnessedtheir annual Sports Parade. I never saw anything like it. It lasted for fivehours. It was almost frightening. I was told there were 34,000 boys and girlsin the parade, from all over the Soviet Union.
"Well, now,we're told that the Communists force participation in sports. But those boysand girls I saw in Moscow. Do you think they were forced to participate? I sawthem. Their faces were happy. They weren't being forced. They were having awonderful time. Don't you think a boy or girl in the Uzbek or some Sovietrepublic in central Asia wants to go to Moscow? That's a big thing, the biggestthing in their lives. They work hard, they put everything they have into it.After all, they lead a drab, grim life. Sport is a great outlet for them, agreat opportunity to express themselves.
"Now. Thequestion keeps coming up: aren't their athletes really professional? Don't theyspend all their time training in special camps? Aren't they subsidized by thestate?"
His face wasserious.
"Well,"he said, "they say they're not. They say they're just like athletes everyplace else. They train in their spare time. They say they don't have specialcamps, except as allowed by the rules. I asked about some of these fellows inthe army. A great athlete seems to get promoted all the time. What about that?Well, they say, this man is a great athlete but he is also a good soldier. Hedoes his job well. He deserves his promotion.
"They used togive cash prizes to athletes in Russia. They had to stop that. And they did.They said they did. They say they follow all the amateur rules. Their OlympicCommittee says they do, and we have to take the word of their OlympicCommittee. Just as we take the word of the American Olympic Committee when weask about American athletes."
He waved hishand.
"Maybe someof their best athletes do get special benefits. But I saw no evidence of it.And I don't think they do. I don't think they do. If they do, I wonder if it'sany more than what goes on here, right in our own country?"
He lifted hishand in a gesture of disgust.
"You shouldread the European papers on that score. We're severely criticized, veryseverely criticized, and often with complete justification."
NO REST FOR THEVICTOR
He returned tothe Russians.
"But I doubtif there's much of that in Russia. There are so many good young athletes that astar simply can't rest on his laurels. They're in a stage of development that'ssimilar in a way to things in Chicago when I was competing, 40 or 50 years ago.We were so eager for competition that we'd ride our bikes or walk out into thesuburbs looking for meets to enter.
"Well,they're eager for competition over there, and they get plenty of it. That's whythey keep coming up with such great performances.
"This isn't anew program, you know. It's been going on since the '30s. After the war theyhad progressed to a point where they decided to enter internationalcompetition."
His face lightedwith an amused smile.
"They toldthe international sports federations, like the IAAF, they would like tojoin—but. And they added a list of conditions."
"I guess theyalways have conditions. And I think they get away with them most of the time.But they didn't in sport.
"They saidRussian had to be one of the official languages. The board of directors wouldhave to include a Russian. And throw out Fascist Spain. Well, they were told:you may join if you subscribe to the rules. But as for your conditions—aboutmaking Russian an official language: no. Not now. About having a Russian on theboard: no. Join, and later perhaps someone will be elected. As for FascistSpain, so called: no. Spain is a member, an old member, a member in goodstanding. Membership is not based on politics.
"Theyprotested: You have an American on the board of the IAAF, and that would beunfair to Russia. Well, they were told: You're damn lucky to have an American,because he'll lean over backward to be fair. But no more than that. No morethan fair.
"Well, theyjoined, and without conditions. When they appeared before the InternationalOlympic Committee in 1951 they said, we have read your rules, we like yourrules, we subscribe to your rules. We ask for recognition.
"There weretwo points of view at that meeting. One held that the Communists had no conceptof either sportsmanship or amateurism, that they couldn't be trusted and thatthey should be excluded. The other said they will learn and perhaps some goodwill result if they compete with the rest of the world. And in any eventOlympic rules forbid political discrimination. So the Russians were accepted.We thought maybe in the long run it would do some good. Maybe it will."
"These smartalecks who say the Olympic Games should be abolished because all they cause istrouble. They don't know what they're talking about. The fact that everyrenewal of the Olympic Games is bigger, and the participants more enthusiastic,proves their popularity and their worth.
"You have noidea how much the Olympic movement means all over the world. The prestige itcommands."
Brundage pickedup a press clipping from his desk and waved it back and forth emphatically."Here," he said. "One of the most perplexing political problems inthe world is the question of the reunification of Germany. Well, now. After thewar we recognized a West German group as the German Olympic Committee. Theywere the ones we had known before the war. All right. Then the East Germansasked for recognition, so that they could send an East German team to theOlympic Games. We said no. There's only one Germany. There should be only oneteam. Well, they said, you claim the youth of the world should have the chanceto participate in the Olympic Games. Yet you bar us. Well, they had a goodargument. We said, get together with the West! Work out an agreement. And theydid! Oh, there were delays and difficulties, but it worked out. And in theWinter Games this year there'll be one German team, representing all ofGermany." He sat back proudly. "That's what the Olympic movementaccomplished. It's more than the U.N. has been able to do.
"Causetrouble!" he muttered, remembering the accusation. "Nonsense. Over 80countries have national Olympic committees. You only hear about the bigcountries. But the small countries are just as important a part of the Olympicmovement as the big ones. That's one of the reasons we're so against this pointscoring in the Olympic Games. How could a small country ever win the Olympicsif the point score meant anything? But its individuals can win. When Barthel ofLuxembourg won the Olympic 1,500-meter in 1952, why as far as Luxembourg wasconcerned, Luxembourg won the Olympics!"
"Here. Here'san example of the influence of sport and amateurism and the Olympic movement.You know how American crowds will always applaud a good play, whether it's bytheir own team or not. Well, you should see the crowds in South America at someof those soccer games. It's unbelievable. They have magnificent modernstadiums, marvels of engineering. But the playing field is separated from thespectators by a moat! And barbed wire! Why? The spectators riot. They don'twant the best team to win. They want their own team to win. It's worth areferee's life if the home team loses. Literally.
"Now, that'scontrary to the amateur idea. But many of those countries are 50 years behindus in sport. Fifty years ago American crowds were more that way than the waythey are today. But they changed. They learned. Sport does, over a period oftime, educate, or you might say, develop a feeling of fair play andsportsmanship among the spectators."
Suddenly he puthis hands down flat on his desk.
"It's gettinglate," he said. "Let's go downstairs and have dinner."
He rose, camearound the desk and led the way out of his office. At the door to the outeroffice he stopped and looked back, frowning, at the Oriental statuary. Heturned again.
"Did you havean Egyptian bronze out here?" he asked his secretary, Miss Frances Blakely."The bird. Horus. What did you do with it?"
Miss Blakely, along-time employee of Brundage's, patiently pointed out to him where the bird,Horus, was.
"Oh,"said Brundage, satisfied. Then, abruptly: "Will you join us fordinner?"
"It'slate," she said slowly, in her rather vague, pleasant way. "I have alittle work I should finish before I go home. Perhaps I shouldn't."
"Oh, come andeat," Brundage said. He turned abruptly and moved toward the door of theoffice. Miss Blakely shrugged her shoulders and smiled resignedly.
"Allright," she said.
Brundage wasfirst through the office door and first going down the hall, picking up groundas he went. He is a tall, thick-bodied man of 68 and he walks very rapidly, hishead held erect, his broad shoulders squared, his body rolling slightly like asailor's as he races along in a slightly pigeon-toed old-walker's gait. He was10 feet ahead at the first turn of the corridor and twice that by the time hereached the elevators. He punched the "down" button hard and turnedback to the center of the hall to wait.
"He alwayswalks very fast," Miss Blakely said. "I can never keep up withhim."
At the elevatorBrundage renewed his argument.
"The 1932Olympic Games in Los Angeles," he said. "There was another example ofthe influence of sport."
He waved anarm.
"The Japanesewere very unpopular in southern California. I don't know why; maybe they workedtoo hard. At any rate there was a bad situation and very bad feeling towardsthe Japanese. In the 10,000-meter run a Japanese runner was dead last, a lapbehind on the field. The race was over and he still had a lap to go. Well, hedidn't quit. He held on, he ran the last lap and he finished. What did thecrowd do? The crowd stood and applauded him, all the way, that last timearound."
The elevatordoors opened. Brundage stood alertly to one side and waved Miss Blakely in.
"Now," hewent on, "that's a very interesting thing. Here was a crowd that waspredominantly from southern California, where they did not like Japanese. Yetthey applauded a Japanese athlete."
He spread hishands.
"What can'tsport teach? What can't it achieve?"
The elevatordoors opened on the lobby. Before he stepped out Brundage half turned.
"You can'tsay this," he stated, "because people wouldn't understand what youmean. But amateurism is a sort of religion."
Then he was offagain in his driving sprint, across the lobby and into the restaurant, hisshoulders squared, his chin out, looking, as always, like a man carrying abanner.