Samaranch Defends Awards Decisions

Associated Press

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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