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Controversy over how Lausanne should honour outgoing IOC president

Samaranch has served as the head of the IOC for 21 years

(Keystone)

The outgoing president of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, is to be honoured by the IOC's host city, Lausanne. But the praise may not be as fulsome as some might have expected.

Lausanne calls itself the Olympic capital, and Samaranch has done as much as anyone to put the IOC and Lausanne on the map. Some would argue that his contribution merits the city's highest civic award, the Citizen of Honour.

But reports say the municipal authorities intend to give the Spaniard no more than the "Keys to the Olympic City" to mark his 21 years as head of the IOC.

This apparent slight is due to opposition from the four left-wing members of the seven-member city council, who are unhappy about Samaranch's involvement in Franco's fascist regime in Spain.

The award is likely to be made in May, two months before Samaranch is to step down at the IOC session in Moscow. The IOC would only say that the decision was "the affair of the Mayor of Lausanne and the parties who make up the municipal council".

No official announcement has yet been made, and the Mayor, Jean-Jacques Schilt, refused to be interviewed by swissinfo on the subject.

But any attempt to reward the Olympic chief with the distinction of Citizen of Honour is likely to be blocked by the municipal parliament, which has to approve this distinction. The granting of the Keys to the Olympic City is a matter only for the city's executive.

"President Samaranch has not asked for the Citizenship of Honour," the IOC said, adding that he did not intend to make any statement on the matter. But a number of local right-wing politicians have entered the fray on his behalf.

"Juan Antonio Samaranch has done a lot for Lausanne. The IOC brings an estimated SFr100 million ($58.5 million)a year into the city," says Francis Thévoz, a Radical Party member of the city council. He believes Samaranch's past should not disqualify him from receiving the city's highest honour.

During the Franco regime, which ended in 1975, Samaranch was responsible for physical education and sport in Catalonia, and later for the whole of Spain. He also sat in the Spanish national parliament.

"When awarding the Citizenship of Honour, you have to take into account the whole man," says Oscar Tosato, head of the socialist group in the municipal parliament. "We cannot ignore his past."

Tosato told swissinfo that receiving the keys to the city was a significant honour, which Samaranch deserved for his work at the head of the Olympic Movement, but that the IOC chief should not get the highest award.

"Over 700 Swiss volunteers went to fight the fascists in Spain, and on their return, they were put in prison. They have not been pardoned. How can I forgive Juan Antonio Samaranch, who gave support to Franco's regime?" Tosato asks.

It is uncertain whether this apparent slight will affect Lausanne's bid to become the headquarters of the new World Anti-Doping Agency. The Olympic Movement, whose members make up half of the agency's executive, has campaigned hard on behalf of Lausanne, one of five cities still in the running.

The decision will be made on July 31 or August 1, a week and a half after Samaranch's official farewell to Lausanne.

by Roy Probert


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