Samaranch defends past under Franco

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The Independent Online

On the eve of one of the most crucial meetings in his 19 years as president of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch was faced again with controversy over his past.

On the eve of one of the most crucial meetings in his 19 years as president of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch was faced again with controversy over his past.

The 79-year-old Spaniard awoke today to find a front-page story in the European edition of the Wall Street Journal examining his political role during the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco.

Samaranch's Francoist past is no secret. It was a central theme of the 1992 book "Lords of the Rings."

But the timing of Tuesday's article couldn't be worse for Samaranch. This weekend, he will ask the IOC general assembly to approve a package of reforms designed to prevent a recurrence of the corruption scandal which erupted a year ago.

Next week, Samaranch is to travel to Washington to testify about the reforms before a skeptical Congress.

At a news conference today, Samaranch defended Franco and his own activities during the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

"I have said many times that this was many years ago and you have to be a Spaniard (to understand)," he said. "I was with many, many Spaniards with Franco. He had the support of many countries around the world. He did three exceptional things: he kept Spain out of the (second world) war, he transformed Spain into an industrial country and he chose Spain's next leader, the king."

Samaranch noted that he has received honors from Spain, his home city of Barcelona, the province of Catalonia, and the king, and that he was Spain's first ambassador to Moscow.

"All this was after (Franco)," he said.

Samaranch saw a positive side to the newspaper story.

"The IOC and its president are very important to have this coverage," he said.

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US MEETINGS IN DOUBT

It looks likely the IOC will not be holding executive board meetings in the United States as planned next year.

The meetings are due to take place in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Salt Lake City in February.

But IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch said Tuesday the organization was considering moving the meetings to Sydney, Australia.

"It may be better to go to Salt Lake City the year after," he said.

A final decision will be made by the executive board this week.

Samaranch suggested it was more appropriate to hold the meetings in Sydney because the Summer Games will be staged there next September. Salt Lake will stage the Winter Games in 2002.

The IOC has denied it wants to move the meetings out of the United States due to fears that members would be questioned by the FBI as part of its investigation into the Salt Lake bribery scandal.

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SWEETNESS AND LIGHT

IOC vice president Dick Pound, the head of the new world anti-doping agency, says he and White House drug adviser Gen. Barry McCaffrey - a one-time vocal critic - are now on the same page.

After their face-to-face meeting in Washington last week, McCaffrey endorsed Pound as leader of the agency. McCaffrey had previously complained that the agency lacked independence from the IOC and said it was a conflict of interest for Pound, as the IOC's top marketing official, to be in charge.

"He's come away from the meeting of the view the agency is in fact independent," Pound said Tuesday. "I don't think there is a conflict of interest and I think he's been persuaded there's not. What we're trying to market and sell to the world is a drug-free Games. So there's a real convergency of interests, not conflict."

McAffrey is due to meet soon with IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch to discuss the anti-doping effort. Pound said the meeting could take place next week when Samaranch travels to Washington to brief Congress on IOC reforms.

Pound said the anti-doping agency board will hold its first meeting Jan. 13. He said he expects the agency to begin some out-of-competition testing before the Sydney Games but that it would take two to three years to implement a global testing program.

Pound said he had no indication that blood tests or tests for EPO and human growth hormone would be ready in time for Sydney.

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WHAT TICKET SCANDAL?

The IOC is downplaying the Sydney ticket fiasco.

Sydney organizers have been under fire after revelations that they kept about 500,000 premium Olympic tickets out of a public ballot to offer them to corporate clients at up to three times face value. Most of the tickets have since been returned to normal sale following public outrage.

IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch said he spoke Tuesday with SOCOG chief Michael Knight.

"It was a problem, but I think now it is solved," Samaranch said. "I like to see a positive side. Never before, one year before the games, have people been so interested in buying tickets."

IOC vice president Dick Pound described the ticket controversy as "a local issue."

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