Samaranch wins a stay of execution

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The Independent Online
Olympic Games

The International Olympic Committee performed a backflip worthy of a gold medal in Budapest yesterday when it voted to allow its president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, the chance of a fourth term in office.

Only three days after Samaranch suffered a defeat over plans to scrap an age limit of 75 for holding office, the Spaniard's closest allies whipped up support for an age limit of 80 that could keep him in power until 2001.

Under the old rules, the 74-year-old would have had to retire in 1997 at the end of his current term. "Now I have the possibility to run again in 1997, but I know my age and I'll make the final decision at the end of next year," Samaranch said at the end of a week of IOC meetings in the Hungarian captital.

Supporters of the age limit, including the leading IOC member Dick Pound, of Canada, had warned that changing it just to keep Samaranch in power could turn the IOC into "laughing stocks".

However, they were forced to retreat after a group of Samaranch's supporters collected signatures from 70 of the 95 IOC members supporting a higher age limit.

The group, including the world athletics chief Primo Nebiolo and football's Joao Havelange, proposed a floating age limit of between 75 and 80 - not unlike that used by the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church under the Pope.

The petition was handed to the IOC's executive board, which decided to put an age limit of 80 on the agenda of the last morning's meeting. Whereas voting on Thursday had been by secret ballot, Samaranch brushed aside calls for a ballot yesterday and simply asked for a show of hands.

Ten members, mostly Europeans and North Americans, voted against, two abstained and the remaining 74, who never needed to raise their hands, supported the motion.

"It's not the end of the world. We'll get on with life," Pound said.

Jacques Rogge, of Belgium, said: "We know how this may look to outsiders but we had to compromise in the general interest and we are prepared to live with this decision."