Monday, 17 October 2016

30 years since Barcelona’s Olympic nomination

CNA / Marina Force

Barcelona (CNA).- Thirty years have passed since the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Juan Antonio Samaranch, pronounced the five magical words, “À la ville de…Barcelona”, and the city became the venue for the Olympic Games 1992.  The announcement led to an explosion of effusiveness in Catalonia and in the Palais de Beaulie of Lausanne, where the IOC session took place. Barcelona citizens filled the streets. They were conscious of the significance of this success, which resulted in an unprecedented urban transformation of the capital of Catalonia and breathed into Barcelona citizens a feeling of great pride in their city. The Olympics placed the city on the world map and helped to create a new and modern image for Barcelona, which has lasted until today. 

A day like today, 30 years ago, Barcelona won the right to be host to the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. Five cities, apart from Barcelona, were competing fiercely in the race to be the venue for the sports event - Paris, Brisbane (Australia), Belgrade (Yugoslavia), Amsterdam and Birmingham (England) - but in the end the capital of Catalonia won the nomination.

The decision was made in secret-ballot voting by 85 of the International Olympic Committee's 89 members. It took only three rounds of voting for Barcelona to gain the necessary majority. Of the 85 IOC voters, 47 cast their ballots for Barcelona, 23 for Paris, 10 for Brisbane and 5 for Belgrade. Amsterdam was eliminated in the first round; Birmingham, in the second.

Barcelona 1992, a milestone on a difficult road 

Barcelona representatives’ elation after the announcement in Lausanne was evident. And there was reason to be joyed. The path to the city’s proclamation was full of obstacles. The nomination of Barcelona had two main hurdles to surpass: the threat posed by terrorism and the image of Spain as country incapable of hosting an event of the Olympics magnitude.

Concern about ETA terrorism was palpable during the decision-making process. Pasqual Maragall, the Socialist Mayor of Barcelona at that time, expressed his delight after his city’s victory, but also mentioned his sadness for the terrorist bombing attack which occurred that week in Barcelona. According to the Mayor, the perpetrators wanted to lessen Barcelona’s chances of the Olympics. “The Games of 1992 will belong to the victims”, the politician stated.

Neither the terrorism nor the fact that Spain had celebrated its first municipal democratic elections only 7 years before tarnished Barcelona’s candidacy. The vote was, undoubtedly, a tribute to the IOC President, Samaranch, originally from Barcelona. "I think the president - now listen carefully, I want to be clear on this - had an effect on the vote in a moral sense, but only in that sense", Maragall said. "The vote was a recognition of his contribution to the Olympics”, he stated.

The race to achieve the nomination was so tight that the people responsible for the candidacy had to work hard in the field of international public relations. In this vein, the businessman Leopoldo Rodés had a prominent role. In only18 months, the entrepreneur visited 52 countries and received in his home the 91 members of the IOC.

The Olympics Games legacy  

The Games took place between the 25th of July and the 9th of August 1992. A total of 9,364 athletes (6,652 men and 2,704 women) were to take part, from a record 169 countries. The most successful athlete was Vitaly Scherbo, a gymnast from the Unified Team, composed by the republics of the former Soviet Union (except the Baltic states), who took home 6 medals. The Unified Team, with the country code EUN, was also the one to achieve the most medals overall, followed by the United States and Germany. Spain obtained 6th position, with 22 medals, 13 of them gold. 

The sports merits, however, were not the most remarkable outcome of the Olympic Games in Barcelona. This sports event emerged as a common project, an opportunity for the city to leave behind the years of Franco’s dictatorship and to overcome some of its main difficulties: chaotic urban planning, financial problems and sprawling suburban neighbourhoods. It genuinely was a turning point.

Evidence of this Olympic excitement is the number of volunteers joining the event. During the phase of the candidacy, the project Barcelona ’92 received 60,000 enrolled volunteers, a figure that had risen to the 102,000 by the end of 1986, once the city had won the right to host the event.

Barcelona’s change of skin

The urban revolution resulting from the nomination had no precedent. Barcelona changed its skin. The Olympic Games served as a pretext to open Barcelona to the sea and connect the Eixample district to the Mediterranean, through Marina Street. This required the elimination of the most antique railway of Spain, which by the time was separating the littoral neighbourhoods. 

Furthermore, the city saw how obsolete factories disappeared or changed their location to leave room for the emergence of a whole new neighbourhood (Villa Olímpica, ‘Olympic Village’). Maybe one of the most remarkable changes, though, was the end of the disgraceful shacks crowded around Montjuïc, an area that recovered its citizen use.

The legacy of the Games goes beyond the urban changes. The event made an imprint on Barcelona’s morale and blew a breath of fresh air into the collective self-esteem, while permitting the creation of a whole new brand for Barcelona, which since then has been regarded as a modern and cosmopolitan European city.

Thirty years have passed since the nomination of the city, but Cobi the mascot and Montserrat Caballé and Freddie Mercury’s Barcelona anthem endure in the memory and hearts of, not only citizens of Barcelona, but many people across the world.

  • Olimpics

  • Cauldron used in Barcelona's Paralympic Games, in 1992 (by ACN)