A US athlete, Republican politician, and self-made businessman turned sport administrator, Brundage was born in Detroit, Michigan. His competitive event at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics was the decathlon. He was the 84-year-old president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the time of the Munich terrorist tragedy in 1972. Brundage was president of the US Olympic Association and Committee from 1929 to 1953; and vice-president of the International Olympic Committee from 1945 to 1952, then assuming the presidency for two decades until 1972.
Brundage was a defendant of amateurism, opposed the commercialization of the Olympics, and cultivated an authoritarian presence in international sporting administration. He insisted that sport should transcend politics—captured most controversially in his announcement on 6 September 1972 in Munich, after the murder by Palestinian terrorists of eleven Israeli athletes:We have only the strength of a great ideal. I am sure that the public will agree that we cannot allow a handful of terrorists to destroy this nucleus of international cooperation and good will we have in the Olympic movement. The Games must go on and we must continue our efforts to keep them clean, pure and honest and try to extend the sportsmanship of the athletic field into other areas.At the meeting of the IOC executive board the day after the announcement, it was business as usual for the Olympic committee members, Brundage condemning as ‘disgraceful’ the commercialization of athletes wearing rival manufacturers' shoe brands. Brundage also summarized the four options that had been considered before deciding to continue the event, and it was generally agreed that ‘there would be no large occasions until the end of the Games, i.e. no receptions, no music, a short Closing Ceremony and it should be emphasised that the teams were staying solely for the sake of sport’. For the sake of sport alone? Yet the Games must go on because of their influence ‘into other areas’. In this central tension and contradiction Brundage personified the arguments that have surfaced and resurfaced for many years between the purportedly apolitical idealist and the activists and scholars for whom sport itself is a form of cultural politics.
We have only the strength of a great ideal. I am sure that the public will agree that we cannot allow a handful of terrorists to destroy this nucleus of international cooperation and good will we have in the Olympic movement. The Games must go on and we must continue our efforts to keep them clean, pure and honest and try to extend the sportsmanship of the athletic field into other areas.
Brundage, widowed in 1971, once joked to a German friend ‘that his ambition was to marry a German princess’ (Allen Guttmann, The Games Must Go On: Avery Brundage and the Olympic Movement, 1984). Retiring from his IOC position after Munich, in 1973 at the age of 85 he married the 37-year-old daughter of the ruler of a tiny German principality, and bought a house in Garmisch, Germany—site of the 1936 winter Olympics—where he died of heart failure in 1975. He had argued consistently that the best ever Olympic Games had been those of 1936 in Germany, and he was a long-term member of a freemason's lodge in Chicago. For someone arguing for the capacity of sport to transcend politics, he had a very well-defined political position and profile, also opposing the expansion of women's sports in athletics/track-and-field. See also Blankers-Koen, Fanny; commercialization; International Olympic Committee.
Subjects: Sport and Leisure.