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The last living amateur is still a king among kings
Lee Griggs
May 22, 1967
The talk was of deposing Avery Brundage when the IOC met, but at the end it was the controversial American who reigned over royalty
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May 22, 1967

The Last Living Amateur Is Still A King Among Kings

The talk was of deposing Avery Brundage when the IOC met, but at the end it was the controversial American who reigned over royalty

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That aging, royalty-ridden club of millionaires officially known as the International Olympic Committee convened in Iran's capital city of Teheran last week, dealt dutifully with an agenda that ranged from South African segregation to steroid drugs, and, to nobody's surprise, left unanswered the biggest question of all: How long will Avery Brundage continue to run the Olympic movement?

Today's younger generation can be pardoned for believing that Avery Brundage invented the Olympic Games. He has been a member of the IOC since 1936 and its president since 1952. He was president of the U.S. Olympic Committee for 24 years (1929-53), and competed in the 1912 games at Stockholm in the all-around event, a one-day backbreaker that was the forerunner of today's two-day decathlon. He will be 80 in September, and 81 by the time his current four-year term as IOC president expires with the Mexico City summer Games in October 1968.

"I've had more than half a century in the Olympic movement," Brundage said with pardonable pride, plunking stockinged feet on a brass table in his room at the Royal Teheran Hilton, where the IOC meeting was held. "At one time or another during those years I've been called a capitalist, a Communist, a socialist, a fascist and a lot of other things that are unprintable. Kinder people have called me the last living amateur, and I'm proud of that. I've spent my whole adult life fighting politics and commercial interference in the Olympic movement and I'm not about to stop now."

There is a growing body of Olympic opinion—in the 26 international sport federations, in the 123 national Olympic committees, and in the 70-or-so-member IOC itself—that it is time for Brundage to step down. There was talk in Teheran of limiting the number of terms an IOC president could serve. In Hilton hallways delegates discussed possible alternatives to Brundage, notably Britain's Lord Exeter, who lost narrowly to Brundage in the last presidential election at Tokyo, or jovial, jowly Lord Killanin of Ireland. Killanin quickly dismissed his chances. "Dear boy," he rumbled to a reporter, "I'm only 53 years old. In this august assemblage, that makes me no more than a child. The average age of this group is well to the dark side of 65."

Brundage himself made it plain that he would not be averse to still another term as president. "If I live to be 250," he said, "I wouldn't be able to do all the things I'd like to do. I have never run for this office, and I don't intend to start now. Of course, if people want me to continue to preside, that's another matter. If they don't, there are many other things to do. For instance, the whole philosophy of the Olympic movement has been sadly neglected, and I'd like to write a book about it."

Such a book, if Brundage ever gets around to writing it, is going to be particularly tough on attitudes in the U.S. toward amateurism.

"Sport in America is increasingly being turned over to the professionals," he said. "In recent years we've had two horrible basketball scandals, and earlier this year there was a slush fund scandal at my own institution, the University of Illinois. Americans have forgotten that the very word amateur comes from the Latin amo, love. An amateur is someone who loves what he is doing, and does it for love, not money. In America today an amateur is considered just a beginner, someone who is not good enough to be a professional. The Olympic code says a competitor must have a vocation, be it studying, working in a factory or learning a trade. Sport must be an avocation. When American colleges lay out up to half a million dollars a year for athletic scholarships, it's proof that the word amateur is hardly understood anymore."

Brundage has been blasted before for condemning American amateurism as a "sham" while refusing to invoke the same strictures on state-supported Soviet athletes. He still bristles when the matter comes up: "We had so-called state amateurs before the Russians did, people who competed for the prestige of the state. The Olympic rule stipulates 28 days of living on expenses a year, and no more. It applies to everybody. The Russians deny they are violating the rule. We have no proof, only what we read in the papers, and that isn't enough. Our Olympic rules are based on ethical principles. Not only do these principles not change, they are not negotiable, now or at any other time."

With that, the last living amateur took his place at the head table in the Hilton ballroom to preside over the IOC session. A good turnout was on hand, and most of the titled were in attendance: Germany's Prince Georg of Hanover, Belgium's Prince Alexandre, Denmark's Princess Margrethe, India's Raja Bhalindra Singh, France's Comte de Beaumont, Iran's Prince Gholam Reza Pahlevi, Liechtenstein's Prince Franz Josef II, Luxembourg's Grand Duke Jean. Among the missing was the IOC's ranking royal member, King Constantine of Greece, detained in Athens by a distinctly non-Olympic coupe d' �tat. But then it didn't matter too much. At IOC meetings, Constantine is a mere member. The real king is Avery Brundage.

Under Brundage's firm hand, the IOC dealt swiftly with challenges to its authority. To placate national Olympic committees who want more say in Olympic matters, it set up a liaison subcommittee of IOC members to consult with them. To placate the sports federations who want more Olympic loot, it agreed to share a slice of television revenues from the summer and winter Games. It made a move to alter its old-fogy image by accepting the resignations of five members whose average age was 78 and electing four members (including Prince Tsuneyoshi Takeda of Japan) whose age averaged 53. It noted "with satisfaction" a Mexican progress report, and after some close questioning about the housing disaster for skiers at Chamrousse last winter, pronounced itself "satisfied" that Grenoble would provide adequate housing for the Winter Games next February.

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