Samaranch: Wife's trip to Atlanta was just Southern hospitality

To International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch, the $12,000 spent by Atlanta leaders entertaining his wife and a friend in 1990 while the city was trying to land the 1996 Summer Games was just a case of hospitality run amok.

To International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch, the $12,000 spent by Atlanta leaders entertaining his wife and a friend in 1990 while the city was trying to land the 1996 Summer Games was just a case of hospitality run amok.

"The American South is famous for its hospitality," the 79-year-old Spaniard told a US Congressional panel today. He was repeating a line that then-US Vice President Dan Quayle had used in a letter to Maria Teresa Samaranch after her visit to Atlanta, Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina.

"She was invited and they felt they should pay the cost," Samaranch said. "But I don't think this stuff is really that important."

Representative Joe Barton, a Republican, disagreed.

He asked Samaranch how the Olympic movement benefited by the organizers of the Atlanta games spending that much money to entertain his wife, treating her to shopping trips and fashion shows. Barton said Atlanta records show that Mrs Samaranch had no interest in visiting any of the proposed venues for the Atlanta Games.

"She just wanted to go to artsy-craftsy places and participate in high society," Barton said.

"This is a problem of the organising committee," Samaranch told the House Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations. "This was an invitation based on friendship. That is all I can discern."

Barton's questioning of Samaranch over his wife's trip was the IOC president's tensest moment during nearly more than two hours of testimony. The subcommittee has been investigating abuses in the IOC process that led to Atlanta's selection as the host city for the 1996 games.

Afterward, Samaranch said he was not upset by Barton's inquiries.

"I was expecting that," he said.

Indeed, Barton had asked Samaranch only if he knew his wife had traveled to the South in 1990 at the expense of the Atlanta organisers when the IOC president launched into a lengthy justification of the trip. Barton cut him off, insisting that Samaranch answer the question.

"Not only did I know," he replied, "but I also advised her to go."

Samaranch said he came to Atlanta alone in 1989 and officials of the city's organising committee "regretted the fact that my wife was not with me." He said they insisted on inviting her to come see the South at a later date and he advised her to accept the invitation.

"She was treated very well," he said.

After Samaranch left, Barton asked former Tennessee Senator Howard Baker, a member of the new ethics commission created to police the IOC, if the reforms adopted by the IOC last weekend would bar such independent travel at host city expense by spouses and other relatives of IOC members.

"I'm not touching that; I know trouble when I see it," Baker replied with a laugh. But he conceded when pressed by Barton that the issue is one the new ethics panel should take a look at.

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