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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | DAILY REPORT : MISCELLANY

Samaranch Defends Awards Decisions

July 20, 1996|From Staff and Wire Reports

Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the IOC, defended the granting of top Olympic awards to former Communist dictators from Romania and East Germany and denied having said the Olympic movement was more important than the Roman Catholic Church.

Samaranch, the IOC president since 1980, came under fire in an HBO program this week that questioned why the organization presented Olympic Orders to Nicolae Ceaucescu and Erich Honecker.

Ceaucescu ruled Romania for four decades before being overthrown and executed in 1989. Honecker was ousted as leader of East Germany in 1989 after 18 years in power. He died two years ago in exile in Chile.

Samaranch said Ceaucescu was honored because Romania broke the Soviet-led Communist boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Games. Romania was the only Eastern bloc country besides Yugoslavia to ignore Moscow's orders.

Samaranch said the IOC honored Honecker because East Germany was the first Communist country to confirm its participation in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, heading off the possibility of another boycott.

Samaranch dismissed reports that he said the Olympic movement is more important than the Catholic religion.

"I never said this," he said. "Maybe the Olympic movement has more followers than any kind of religion in the world."

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A "suspicious item" that sparked the partial evacuation of the Olympic international television headquarters before the opening ceremonies was found to be safe, police said.

"The item was examined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and determined not to have been a threat," said a police statement.

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Accommodations for China's Olympic athletes in Atlanta reportedly are cramped and there's no Chinese food for them to eat.

China's state-run television showed footage from Atlanta of rooms crammed with two beds and a narrow space between them. Training bags lay at the foot of the beds, with seemingly no other place to be stored. At the end of a hallway stood a sink to be shared by a number of athletes.

"Although many types of food have been prepared in the Olympic Village, there's no Chinese food. Many of the athletes aren't used to eating Western food," said the report on the nationwide evening news broadcast. "Not a few have had to make do with hamburgers or Korean kimchi."

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Russian Olympic Committee president Vitaly Smirnov said the increasing tendency of big-name athletes to live outside the Olympic village was damaging the spirit of the Games.

"It is a very, very serious problem," said Smirnov, a member of the IOC for the past 25 years and executive president of the Organizing Committee for the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Smirnov said that what was happening to the village was actually the kind of separation the Soviet KGB secret police wanted whenever the Soviet Union participated at the Games.

"That was the KGB dream--to have Soviet athletes and other athletes from Socialist countries apart from capitalist countries. The first time we participated in Helsinki in 1952 we had a special camp. If you think about it, the KGB dream of a separation is coming true and this is very bad for the Games."

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu is supporting Cape Town's bid for the 2004 Games, saying a first Olympics in Africa would give the continent much-needed self-respect.

Tutu, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his struggle against apartheid in South Africa, said the economic impact of holding the Olympics in Cape Town would benefit not only his own country but also all of Africa.

"Nothing but bad news comes out of Africa, save for the recent political transformation we have had in South Africa," the recently retired Archbishop of Cape Town said. "But Africa is a sleeping giant and we can show a whole different side if we get the Olympics."

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