After 20 years of service as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Sam Ramsamy finished his term of office at the end of 2018 because of the age limit.
This week, when I contacted the man whose name will forever be linked with the campaign to end apartheid in his native South Africa and allow its sportsmen and women to return to international competition, he was lying on an inflatable in the middle of a private swimming pool, drinking a Martini cocktail.
Actually no. He was at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, working on one of the numerous Commissions he now represents as an honorary IOC member.
“I’ve just finished today with the Public Affairs Commission,” Ramsamy, who turns 81 next Sunday (January 27), said. "Tomorrow it’s Education…”
Education has been a thread that has run right through his long and distinguished life.
Although he was born in Durban, Ramsamy has been a citizen of the world for much of his time, living and working as an educator, activist and sports administrator in numerous countries including Britain and Canada.
Ramsamy came to wider notice in the 1980s as a high-profile anti-apartheid campaigner in London and, effectively in exile, became chairman of the South Africa non-racial Olympic Committee (SANROC) during the apartheid years from 1976 to 1990.
He campaigned tirelessly against discrimination in sport and against the participation of South Africa's white-only teams - banned from the Olympics in 1964 - in international sporting events.
He returned to South Africa upon the lifting of ban on the African National Congress and became the President of South Africa's official National Olympic Committee (SASCOC) in 1991. A year later he led the first non-racial South African team at the Olympics when the Games were held in Barcelona.
Ramsamy has also had a longstanding sporting connection with the International Swimming Federation (FINA), for whom he is currently a vice-president.
During his time in England, Ramsamy spent much of his time teaching in Dagenham, an East London suburb best known for its huge housing developments and its Ford motor plant.
The area has a strong sporting history, having provided England with some of its most talented and influential footballers, including the man who led the nation to victory in the 1966 World Cup finals, Sir Alf Ramsey, and players such as Jimmy Greaves, Terry Venables and, in more recent years, John Terry.
"I taught in Dagenham for three years at Richard Alibon School,” Ramsamy recalled this week. “It had a very good football team. In 1967 we won the Barking Cup for primary schools in the then London Borough of Barking which included Dagenham.
"My association with the people in Dagenham was one of the most heartening times of my life. I was accepted as if I was one of them. I learnt about the varying life of the English. The Cockney Accent, the Queen’s English, fish and chips with soggy peas and Yorkshire pudding. I had a great bunch of colleagues. It was a most extraordinary time for me.
“I later became deputy principal of the Gwyn Jones School in Leytonstone.
“At the time I was engaging with political activists. My deep commitment to get rid of apartheid attracted some sympathisers of racism. The house I shared was attacked and we were forced to move and reside in a flat in Pembridge Square, near Notting Hill Underground Station. Five of us shared the flat.
“I knew that I would eventually return to South Africa and play a part in restructuring sport. And this did happen. I became the first black person to be elected President of the National Olympic Committee.
“By the way in April 2012 Sir Steve Redgrave and I jointly opened the Barking Olympic Training Centre for the 2012 Games. This was later used as a venue for the Paralympic Games…”
When this educator was asked what he had learned in the course of his life that had been most valuable to him, he responded: "Learning for me has been an evolving process. I learnt early in life that giving and sharing are fundamental principles as we lived among the deprived in South Africa.
“I was very prominent in the fight against apartheid; and I was not popular with a sector of the South African population. But when apartheid ended we had to interact with both the former oppressor and the oppressed. Reconciliation became paramount.
“I was fortunate in meeting and discussing several issues with the greatest leader of our time, Nelson Mandela. He always said that forgiveness and reconciliation is a very powerful weapon and told me: ‘Don’t forget to use it.’ I try to follow this philosophy as much as possible.
“I was fortunate in having met Nelson Mandela on numerous occasions. He often referred to me as his son.
“I met many senior heads of state and senior statesmen. But I am yet to meet one so simple yet with such priestly decorum.
“We discussed seriously how to engage with white South Africans and demonstrate to them they were part of the new South Africa. We took mostly white athletes to compete in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.
“This was long before the establishment of the electoral democracy in 1994. Mandela was present to witness the South African team march in the Opening Ceremony with me leading the delegation.
“The release of Mandela and other political detainees from prison set South Africa moving towards receiving acceptance throughout the world. I was personally asked by the African National Congress to return to South Africa.
“The combined efforts of then IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, Mandela and the African sports movement led to South Africa’s presence at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.
“No doubt that was the greatest moment in my life when I led the South African delegation into the stadium for the Opening Ceremony with Mandela seated in the Heads of State enclosure.”
The thread of education has always been interwoven with a thread of sport for Ramsamy.
“I have been a sports fan all my life,” he said. “I competed, coached and administered in the sport of swimming and athletics; and I coached football for a club in the South African Professional League.
“I was a lecturer in sport and physical education. My wife competed in the European and World Championships in basketball. Olympic highlights in athletics, swimming and the National Basketball Association finals always thrill me.”
And he is hopeful that some of his sporting connections will endure even beyond his full membership of the IOC.
“This is the prerogative of the IOC President,” he said. “I will, of course, remain an honorary member; and I will always be available to assist whenever I am called. I still have duties in international swimming, as vice president of FINA, and in assisting the African Sports Movement.”
But as an era comes to an end for him within the IOC, what does Ramsamy believe to be the biggest challenges to the organisation in the next few years? What would he like to see happening? What would he not like to see happening?
“We are presently living in a rapidly changing world,” he responded. “As the Danish proverb goes - prediction is difficult, especially when dealing with the future.
"The worrying aspect for me, and I am certain for several other IOC members, is the negative stance taken by the media in general regarding hosting of the Games. This tends to sway public opinion against hosting of future Games with the weird position that the funds can be utilised for other needy projects.
“This is a false sense of security as in fact funds are hardly ever diverted to the so-called needy schemes.
“The IOC was established in 1884 and it has survived major upheavals including two World Wars. The IOC’s Agenda 2020 philosophy on being one step ahead of anticipated international trends has ensured its sustainability and survival for an extremely long-term. And possible perpetuity.”
Ramsamy was strongly in favour of preventing Russia competing as a nation at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, particularly when they had athletes at the Games testing positive. But does he feel the IOC was too swift in welcoming the Russian Olympic Committee back immediately after Pyeongchang?
“We all had reservations on how we should handle the Russian situation in Pyeongchang," he said. "But we had little option other than to allow the clean athletes to compete. We had done this already in Rio. But the issue was the Russian NOC.
“Using a prison expression, we felt that the Russian NOC had served its time; and it was time to lift their suspension. My impression was that there was an unconscious bias against Russia as a whole because of its political stance and of its leader Mr Putin.
“Would that type of opposition be the same if a country from the so-called West underwent a similar type of misdeed?”
Asked to reflect upon the current crisis regarding Russia’s failure to meet the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) deadline of December 31 for providing access to data stored in the Moscow Laboratory, Ramsamy added: "My position was to wait for the meeting of the WADA Compliance Review Committee. I was certain that WADA would have studied the situation in depth and emerged with a credible decision."
Amid a widespread critical reaction to the missed deadline and the apparent failure of WADA’s policy, Dick Pound, the longstanding IOC member and co-founder of WADA, likened the activity to that of a “lynch mob”.
Ramsamy added: “I go along with the position of Dick Pound, a fierce, long-time opponent of any compromise on the Russian situation. Wait for the relevant meeting. The decision will be WADA’s and that will be final.
“Dick was certainly correct in labelling the instigators goading for an immediate decision for punitive action and trying to harness and provoke others in taking a similar stance.
“There is no doubt that Russian athletes will be competing in Tokyo 2020, as they did in last year’s Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. Many of us believe that Russia has ‘served its sanctions’. There is no alternative.”
WADA’s Executive Committee has set the date of Tuesday (January 22) to give its verdict on whether the Russian Anti-Doping Agency will continue to be regarded as compliant. And Ramsamy counsels patience.
“WADA has to, no doubt, receive the report from the delegation that went to Russia; and then take the appropriate decision,” he added.
“There seems to be an urgency from the detractors of WADA.
“Why they cannot wait from the WADA meeting and decision is incomprehensible.”
There has been urgency from detractors too within the sport of swimming.
In November last year, FINA warned that swimmers planning to compete in the proposed new International Swimming League (ISL) events, which offer lucrative rewards, could be banned from its own events.
That stance altered last month, when the international governing body insisted swimmers were "free to participate in competitions or events staged by independent organisers", although it warned that competitions must be approved before results could be considered official.
The ISL, meanwhile, has claimed FINA's confirmation that athletes would not be sanctioned for competing at events including those run by the ISL was a direct reaction to two civil lawsuits filed against the governing body, which "exposed FINA's illegal threatened ban of swimmers".
The first was brought by the ISL, with the second filed by Hungary's Katinka Hosszú and American swimmers Michael Andrew and Tom Shields in the United States, alleging FINA has violated anti-trust laws.
Ramsamy, naturally enough, backs the actions of the international governing body, although he does question the manner in which it has announced its policies.
“The FINA decision is the correct one and inevitable,” he said.
“Sadly, the statement got out rather late.
“There is now speculation that the FINA position is the result of the lawsuit.
“I presume that the lawsuits will proceed anyway.
“My Federation (South Africa) sought clarification.
“I presume that other Federations might have also wished for guidance from FINA.”
When he turns his gaze back to South Africa, Ramsamy acknowledges that some of his Olympic - and Commonwealth - ambitions for his native country have been doomed to disappointment.
He was a member of the Durban 2022 Bid Committee that won the right to become the first African city to host the Commonwealth Games, only to have to give up that position due to political and economic problems, with the event now bound for Birmingham.
How long does he think it will be before South Africa is ready and willing to bid for either Commonwealth or Olympic Games?
“We did bid to host the Olympic Games for 2004,” he replied. “Having beaten Buenos Aires and Stockholm, we eventually lost to Rome and Athens with Athens emerging as the host city for the 2004 Olympic Games.
“Our initial plans were to consider bidding for the Games of 2024. Sadly, the political situation in the country was not conducive for us to conduct a campaign.
“Our aim was to consider a 2028 bid. Now maybe a bid for 2032. It is now a bit early for such a project. Time will tell.”