The interview was over. Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, had spent a bizarre half-hour with Frank Deford of Home Box Office’s “Real Sports.”
Samaranch called the Olympics “more important than the Catholic religion,” excused his bestowal of Olympic honors on murderous dictators, like Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania, because they advanced the “Olympic movement,” and argued that Atlanta’s weather was like Barcelona’s.
When the half-hour ended - after Deford saw in the Spaniard’s eyes reactions like “What hit me? Where is this coming from?” - Samaranch presented Deford and his producer, Kirby Bradley, with gifts: watches from the Olympic sponsor Swatch.
“He brought over six or seven Swatches, and offered me first choice and Kirby second,” Deford said. “I thought, ‘What the hell is going on?”’
Deford has no idea why Samaranch talked to him for the show, which will be broadcast at 10 p.m. Monday. “Maybe he thought we were part of the same happy family” at Time Warner, which owns HBO, as Sports Illustrated, a $40 million Olympic sponsor.
Samaranch must not have seen “Real Sports” last year, when Deford sliced and diced the Augustans from Georgia who run the Masters golf tournament.
Deford had not expected to talk to Samaranch but planned the segment as a debate between Samaranch’s biographer, David Miller, and Andrew Jennings, the author of “Dishonored Games” and “The New Lord of the Rings,” two seething, scathing indictments of the International Olympic Committee and Samaranch.
“Then, out of the clear blue sky, we got a call saying, ‘His Excellency will meet with you,”’ Deford said.
Jennings is Samaranch’s worst nightmare, strafing Samaranch on the show with charges about the president’s autocratic rule and IOC corruption, allegations he gladly repeats on his Web site (www.jennings-olympics.co.uk).
You have to wonder if Samaranch knew what he was saying, why his press aides did not toss Deford out or when the IOC will cancel its subscription to HBO. Samaranch appears to be an out-of-touch, insensitive monarch, with talents for circular logic and selective political perception.
So, what is the so-called Olympic movement? Deford asked.
Samaranch: “The Olympic movement means the union, the union of the national Olympic committees, the international federations and the IOC.”
Deford: “So you’re saying the word ‘movement’ is the equivalent of organization?”
Samaranch: “No, no, I am saying the festival, the Olympic movement, is a union to spread the Olympism around the world.”
Deford: “What is Olympism?”
Samaranch: “What means Olympism? Olympic festival is a movement uniting the sport.”
“So round and round it goes,” Deford said, cutting from the interview, “The Olympics are a movement because they are the Olympic movement.”
Then, with film of a younger Samaranch, Deford ties him to the Fascist movement of the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, whom Samaranch served for many years.
Why do the likes of Ceausescu deserve the Olympic honors?
Deford: “You gave the highest Olympic honors to Nicolae Ceausescu.”
Samaranch: “I am very proud.”
Deford: “Of Ceausescu?”
Samaranch: “Of what he did for the Olympic movement.”
Deford: “Let me try to understand what you’re saying, Mr. Samaranch. No matter what someone does outside of sports is all right, as long as they do something nice inside sports?”
Samaranch: “We are judging what they are doing in sports.”
Nothing quite so controversial occurs Wednesday at 9 p.m. during “Prelude to the Games,” the 2-hour Olympic preview show produced by Sports Illustrated TV for NBC. Nothing harshly critical of the IOC, other Olympic organizations or sponsors is said on the special with Bob Costas as host.
That approach would seem evidence that the Olympic network and an Olympic sponsor cannot be objective about the event.
Said Deford, a former Sports Illustrated writer: “It was embarrassing on the inside to be a sponsor and annoying that no one on the outside ever called us on it.”
Paulette Douglas, SITV’s executive producer, is not ashamed.
“We didn’t feel our mission was to be investigative,” said Douglas, who said there was no pressure to present a happy, noncritical guise because of the SI sponsorship. “That has nothing to do with it.”