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Samaranch seeks to defuse row over honours

Outgoing IOC president, Juan Samaranch, says says he never sought Lausanne's highest civic honour, the Citizenship of Honour.

(swissinfo.ch)

The outgoing International Olympic Committee president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, has acted to defuse an embarrassing affair over which award he is to receive from the Lausanne authorities in recognition of his contribution to the city.

In a number of press interviews, Samaranch made clear that he had never sought the Citizenship of Honour, the city's highest civic award: "I don't aspire to this distinction. I never asked for anything and don't expect anything."

Samaranch's comments come amid speculation that the Lausanne municipal authorities are intending only to give the Spaniard the "Keys to the Olympic City" - a lesser honour - to mark his 21 years at the head of the IOC.

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

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.

Samaranch said he was surprised by the furore surrounding the affair: "My political past is my political past. What happened in Spain is for the Spanish to judge".

He added that the Barcelona municipal authorities, which, like Lausanne, had a left-wing majority, gave him one of the city's highest honours.

The Olympic chief is likely to receive his award in May, two months before the IOC session in Moscow when he will step down.

Samaranch also sought to reassure Lausanne that there were no plans to move the IOC to another city.

"It is almost impossible that the IOC would leave Lausanne. Whoever takes over from me will be a man who understands the advantages of having the headquarters here," he said.

But Samaranch said he was looking for a "gesture" from the Swiss federal authorities: "An international organisation like ours should have an almost diplomatic status. At the moment we have a semi-diplomatic status. We need something more, along the lines of what the Red Cross has obtained," he says.

by Roy Probert


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