Philip  Barker

French politician Michel Barnier returns to the negotiating table as he leads the European Union team in the discussions on Brexit.

He should know all about complexity. A quarter of a century ago, he was co-president of the Albertville 1992 Winter Olympics. Barnier had joined the organising committee in early 1987.

Skiing legend Jean Claude Killy became his co-president, but as Olympic installations continued in the region, Barnier was described by the official Olympic Review as: “the big boss behind this plastic surgery operation.”

He was already a long-standing deputy and had become Minister for the Environment.

At the Closing Ceremony, Killy and Barnier were presented with the Olympic Gold order by International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Juan Samaranch.

The first leader of an Olympic Organising Committee in the modern era was a man who would be a King and renounce his throne twice.

Crown Prince Constantine “was at the head of a scheme of the most pure and generous Hellenism”, wrote Pierre de Coubertin before the 1896 Athens Games.

The Prince despatched committee secretary Timoleon Philemon to ask millionaire philanthropist Georgios Averoff to finance restoration of the magnificent marble 4th Century BC Panathinaiko Stadium.

“May it bring new life into physical exercises and the moral outlook, and that it contributes to a new Greek generation worthy of its ancestors,” said the Prince as the Games opened.

When Greek shepherd Spiridon Louis won the marathon, Constantine and his brother carried him to the Royal box to meet the King. This set the seal on Games which were successful despite such short preparation time.

That achievement was echoed in the same city more than century later by Athens 2004 President Gianna Angelopolou Dalaskaki.

A city councillor and a Member of Parliament (MP), she spearheaded the successful bid, but was sidelined after the vote in 1997. Political disputes impeded progress until Dalaskaki, by then an ambassador at large for Greece, was recalled to Athens 2004 at the turn of the millennium. It was the first time a woman had led any Games.

With the clock ticking, she started a rescue operation. Against the odds, the Games went ahead on time.

Michel Barnier is among those heading Brexit negotiations, but in the past helped organise the Albertville 1992 Winter Olympics ©Getty Images
Michel Barnier is among those heading Brexit negotiations, but in the past helped organise the Albertville 1992 Winter Olympics ©Getty Images

“The homecoming dream was a magical reality. The Olympics came home and we showed the world the great things Greeks can do. The world discovered a new Greece,” she said.

More than a decade on, she still insists that despite the financial crisis there is “a Greece with a can do attitude, overcome bureaucracy and cut red tape”.

Many earmarked her for the Presidency of her country. Instead, she became a newspaper magnate and encourages students from Greece to study in the States through the Clinton Global Initiative University.

The eventual hosts for 2028 will have 11 years to prepare for their Games, but In the early years, time was much shorter. Stockholm was only given the nod for 1912 in 1909. In such a short time, they needed military precision. The man they turned to was Colonel Viktor Balck, although by the time of the Games, he was already 68 years old.

His bust stands at the entrance to Stockholm’s historic Olympic Stadium in memory of his role, but his influence on the sporting world was much greater.

A career soldier, he held the rank of Brigadier General. He was described as the “father of Swedish sport”, and with good reason.

He helped at the start of Swedish sporting institutions from gymnastics to tennis. He helped found the International Skating Union and promoted skiing. He had been in at the start of the IOC in 1894. He even tried unsuccessfully to persuade Pierre de Coubertin to introduce a Winter Olympic Games.

Time, or lack of it, was often the issue in the early years. London were emergency hosts for 1908 with less than two years to prepare. Thankfully, organising chairman Lord Desborough was used to close run things. He had been in the Oxford boat race crew for the 1877 dead heat and had also taken his life in his own hands to swim across the base of Niagara falls.

He had been an MP and Mayor of Maidenhead, where he oversaw the introduction of electric lighting. As he flicked the switch, he told townsfolk: “In harnessing this wonderful energy, you are going to see the greatest social and industrial revolution the world has ever seen.”

Desborough was not finished with public life after the 1908 Games. He was President of the Marylebone Cricket Club and during the first world war, worked for the Ministry of Munitions. He also headed the Thames Conservation Agencies. He died in 1945, only three years before the Games returned to London.

These were run by David Cecil, better known as Lord Burghley and revered as 1928 Olympic 400 metre hurdles champion.

An Etonian and Cambridge blue who epitomised the British establishment, he was an IOC member at only 28 and became President of the Amateur Athletic Association. He was also MP for Peterborough and during the war, appointed Governor of Bermuda where he sometimes carried out official engagements in a top hat.

Life magazine told how he “laboured energetically to coordinate Bermudan, English, American and Canadian interests represented on the island”.

As chairman of the 1948 Organising Committee, his games made use of military camps and school accommodation to house competitors in a city where wartime bombing damage was still visible.

Burghley had succeeded Johannes Sigfrid Edstrom as president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), back when it was known as the International Amateur Athletic Federation. His tenure in charge of the premier Olympic sport lasted until the mid-1970s.

He is best known today as the inspiration for Lord Lindsay in the movie Chariots of Fire. Played by actor Nigel Havers, he is shown training with glasses of champagne perched on the hurdles. In reality, Burghley used match boxes.

London 2012’s chairman Sebastian Coe has followed in Burghley’s footsteps, even to the extent of attempting the Great Court run at Cambridge, a feat achieved by Burghley in 1927. Coe was also an MP and now he too heads the IAAF.

In recent years, leaders have often come from big business. Organisers of Los Angeles 1984 turned to a man who had forged his reputation with a travel agency.

Pasqual Maragall's role in organising Barcelona 1992 has been highly praised ©Getty Images
Pasqual Maragall's role in organising Barcelona 1992 has been highly praised ©Getty Images

Games announcers invariably introduced this man as “Peter V Ueberroth”. The V stood for Victor. Highly appropriate.

When he spoke at the closing ceremony in 1984, he already knew his next step. He had been approached by Major League Baseball.

He demanded greater powers than ever before and joined in October 1984 only after what the New York Times described as an “historic series of changes in the sports bylaws”.

When his term was over, he remained involved in sport as President of the United States Olympic Committee.

The model for privately funded Games was resurrected for the Centennial Games in 1996. They were inspired by Atlanta lawyer William Porter Payne, known to all as Billy. It was said that he had never travelled outside the US before his involvement with the Olympics. Payne led a successful bid and then took charge of the Organising Committee for the largest scale Games yet seen.

He returned to the sporting spotlight a decade later in 2006 as the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club.

He sees the club “as a beacon in the world of golf”, but It was not until the mid-1970s that a black player was allowed to play there and women members remained excluded until 2012.

It was Payne who issued the invitation to former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and financier Darla Moore. “These accomplished women share our passion for golf. It is a significant and positive sign in the club’s history,” he said.

The Olympic movement did not return to the US until 2002. Mitt Romney took over at the helm of the Salt Lake Winter Games in 1999 when they had been rocked by a bribery scandal.

The events of 9/11 also cast a long shadow over the months before, but under Romney’s leadership, they were another success.

“The fire you’ve lit in each of us will not go out. We leave this place as dreamers because now we know the dream we share can come true,” said a euphoric Romney afterwards.

He successfully ran for Governor of Massachusetts and then set his sights on the Oval Office. He did not make it beyond the Republican primaries in 2008, where he lagged a long way behind main rival John McCain.

But in 2012, he did receive the Republican nomination. Despite receiving 59,142,004 votes, it was not enough to beat Barack Obama.

One Olympic organiser has achieved the highest office in his country. Guilio Andreotti was in charge of the 1960 Olympics in Rome.

He later served as Prime Minister of Italy on no fewer than six occasions, but in the 1990s, he was accused of selling favours to the Mafia. He was cleared in 1999 and lived to the age of 94.

The Mayor often plays an important role in securing the Olympic Games, but Barcelona’s first citizen Pasqual Maragall was unusual in that he also headed up the bidding and Organising Committee. Many consider Maragall’s own part as pivotal in their success.

He remained as Mayor until 1997 before returning to university lecturing, his career before he entering politics. He returned to public life in the late 1990s after being elected President of Catalunya’s Regional Assembly.

He stood down in 2006. The following year it was announced that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Maragall has now lent his name to a foundation dedicated to treating the condition.