Philip Barker ©ITG

They waved Serbian flags and chanted his name at Belgrade Airport earlier this week as Novak Djokovic returned to his homeland from Australia. The will he, won't he lasted almost a fortnight before an Australian court revoked the world number one's visa.

There may well be further twists and turns in court in months to come, but the travails of Djokovic came almost exactly 50 years after another revered sportsman was expelled from a global event, albeit for very different reasons.

In Austria, they called him "King Karli". To the rest of the world, he was Karl Schranz, one of the very best skiers of his generation.

Like Djokovic, Schranz was a national hero with legions of adoring fans and admirers including royalty.

Yet in 1972 this counted for nothing when he was thrown out of the Winter Olympics in Sapporo for infringing the regulations on amateur status as they then applied.

There existed amongst his followers a belief that he had been wronged, and was the victim of a witch hunt by one important official.

Schranz came from the Austrian Alpine resort of St Anton and showed prodigious talent on skis from a very young age.

He had also endured hardship in his early years, losing his father and seeing the family home hit by a fire.

In 1954, he was European youth champion in slalom and won the Austrian age-group championships three times.

As a reward, he was included in a group of young skiers taken to the 1956 Winter Olympics. There he had a front-row view as compatriot Toni Sailer dominated the Alpine competition by winning three gold medals.

An encounter with the ski manufacturer Franz Kneissl had lasting consequences. Kneissl took the young Schranz under his wing. He was sent to the United States to represent the company at trade fairs.

Karl Schranz was arguably Alpine skiing's biggest star in 1972 ©Getty Images
Karl Schranz was arguably Alpine skiing's biggest star in 1972 ©Getty Images

On the snow, his reputation spread to the US as he won the Kandahar-Arlberg races three times in a row.

Schranz skied in his first Olympics at Squaw Valley - now known a Palisades Tahoe - in 1960 but did not win a medal. He had competed despite an injury.

In 1962, Schranz won gold in downhill and combined at the World Championships in Chamonix and silver in giant slalom.

Olympic giant slalom silver followed two years later in Innsbruck.

Another World Championship medal, this time giant slalom bronze, came in 1966 where he finished ahead of Jean-Claude Killy of France.

The tables were turned at the Grenoble 1968 Olympics, when Killy skied to three gold medals in front of an enthusiastic home crowd.

At the age of 33, Sapporo in 1972 was surely to be the last chance for Schranz to win Olympic gold but storm clouds were gathering around his sport.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) President at the time was American Avery Brundage. He was an octogenarian multi-millionaire who had vehemently fought against any kind of professionalism in the Olympics.

In particular, Brundage was enraged by what he saw as the growing commercialisation of winter sport, particularly Alpine skiing.

A World Cup circuit had been established in 1967 at the suggestion of skiing journalist Serge Lang. The new competition had the endorsement of International Ski Federation (FIS) President Marc Hodler and was sponsored by the Evian mineral water company.

The unvaccinated Novak Djokovic was deported from Australia before he could defend his title ©Getty Images
The unvaccinated Novak Djokovic was deported from Australia before he could defend his title ©Getty Images

Schranz had twice won the overall title and another World Championship gold in 1970.

It was undeniable that the whole character of the sport was changing. Star skiers were often telegenic and eminently marketable.

In 1969, Robert Redford starred in Downhill Racer, a movie which harnessed the glamour of the sport.

Schranz had been one of the first to wear an aerodynamic ski suit, dubbed the "astronaut look" by some. Competition to achieve technological advances intensified as Kneissl and Kästle were joined by other rival companies.

"What had started as a duel became a pentathlon," the respected German sports journalist and writer Volker Kluge wrote.

"People talked about a 'ski war'. Each came up with technological innovations that had been developed in secret. And everyone had their stars and worked out how to circumvent the tax regulation with a scheme of rewards."

Brundage was infuriated when skiers made sure that the manufacturer's name was prominent as they did post-race television interviews or celebrated victory.

At the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, Brundage had refused to attend the Alpine skiing events. He described them as "disagreeable" and found himself at loggerheads with skiing officials including FIS President Hodler, who was also an IOC member.

Many others considered Brundage to be an anachronistic figure, tilting at windmills in the fashion of Don Quixote.

Brundage maintained his personal crusade when the IOC met in Amsterdam for its annual Session in May 1970.

"It is my painful duty to inform you that the Olympic Games are in trouble, in serious trouble. We need your help and I hope you will listen carefully," Brundage began. He reflected on the "greatly exaggerated commercialism" seen in 1968.

In his speech, Brundage reported that the French magazine L'Express had even suggested that the Winter Olympics had become a contest between the French and Austrian ski manufacturers.

He went on to mention one individual by name.

"On the front page of the publication of the Austrian information service, we find the current FIS star Schranz, still accepted by the FIS, conspicuously wearing the uniform and using the marked skis of the firm in whose employ he has been for many years. A living advertisement!"

Brundage noted newspaper reports which suggested that Schranz was earning between $50,000 (£37,000/€44,000) and $60,000 (£44,000/€53,000) each year.

"Brundage had a blacklist, a little black book," Schranz told insidethegames during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

Shortly before the 1972 Winter Olympics, IOC minutes revealed that the eligibility commission had "investigated the problems regarding the eligibility of competitors in the Olympic Winter Games, mainly in Alpine skiing".

Rule 26 of the Olympic regulations stipulated specific circumstances in which an athlete might be expelled.

"Those who have capitalised in any way on their athletic fame or success, profited commercially therefrom or have accepted special inducements of any kind to participate, or those who have secured employment or promotion by reason of their sport performances rather than their ability".

"If an athlete is paid for the use of his name or picture or for a radio or television appearance, it is 'capitalization' of athletic fame as described above."

IOC President Avery Brundage had a particular distain for Karl Schranz ©Getty Images
IOC President Avery Brundage had a particular distain for Karl Schranz ©Getty Images

The rule continued; "Even if no payment is made, such practices are to be deplored, since in the minds of many, particularly the young, they undermine the exalted position rightly held by amateur champions."

Around this time, a picture of Schranz posing for in an advertisement appeared in Profil, a prominent Viennese news magazine.

Brundage's biographer Allen Guttmann admitted that Schranz had been made a scapegoat but also conceded that "Schranz communicated a brazen assurance that he the greatest of skiers, which he was, was invulnerable, which he wasn’t."

Brundage had already made up his mind to make an example of Schranz. "We had sufficient evidence to induce the IOC eligibility commission to reject his entry," Brundage told the media.

An IOC statement outlined the decision.

"Considering the activity and influence of Karl Schranz in international alpine ski competition and the manner in which he has permitted the use of his name and picture in commercial advertising in recent years, he be declared ineligible to take part"

The IOC voted 28-14 for expulsion. 

It appears it did not contact Schranz himself. He had just been out on a practice run when he learned the news from journalist Heinz Prüller.

"It was an Austrian journalist who told me about the decision to expel me, not the IOC," Schranz said.

"I tried to talk to Brundage about the decision but he said, we do not talk to individuals," Schranz complained.

IOC members Hodler, his Swiss compatriot Raymond Gafner and Norwegian Jan Staubo each felt that Schranz was entitled to a hearing. Future IOC President Lord Killanin and Tunisia's Mohamed Mzali warned of the dangers of making Schranz a martyr. 

"Brundage could not afford to kick out the French in Grenoble 1968, but he could afford to get rid of me in 1972 because we were a small nation," Schranz said bitterly.

He gave a press conference before he left Sapporo.

Sapporo 1972 went ahead without Karl Schranz, and with the rest of Austria's team competing ©Getty Images
Sapporo 1972 went ahead without Karl Schranz, and with the rest of Austria's team competing ©Getty Images

"The reasons that were advanced for disqualifying me are absurd," he told the assembled media. "They could be applied to practically everyone else in the Games."

He then made a plea to the Austrian team. "I have asked the team to stay and that I should not be the reason for the withdrawal of the whole Austrian team. I know what it is like after years of training not to participate. If Avery Brundage knew what this meant for me, I would not have been sacrificed to save his own prestige."

Schranz ended with a sideswipe at the IOC President when asked about the prospects of continuing to 1976.

"I would be too old, like Avery Brundage."

Veteran Austrian journalist Michael Kuhn was in Sapporo and contacted his desk back in Vienna.

"In those days there was no internet and we had no idea of the reaction back home in Austria. I called the office and suggested that they meet him at the airport and take him for lunch," Kuhn recalled.

Such arrangements soon proved completely impossible. When his flight touched down in Vienna, Schranz appeared still wearing his bright red Austrian Olympic uniform. There was pandemonium as many thousands had gathered to greet him.

Austrian flags waved flags with the message "Willkommen Karl" and chanted, "Karl ist richtig, Brundage ist nichtig." Karl is right, Brundage is nothing.

They lined the streets of Vienna to cheer as Schranz was driven past in an open-top Mercedes.

He was received by Austrian leader Bruno Kreisky at the Chancellery.

A huge crowd gathered in the Ballhausplatz below, as Schranz made an appearance on the balcony.

The Kurier newspaper estimated a crowd of 80,000, it may have been even greater.

The New York Times claimed that more people turned out for Schranz than had greeted the American President John F. Kennedy or Queen Elizabeth II.

Karl Schranz was given a hero's welcome on his return to Austria ©Getty Images
Karl Schranz was given a hero's welcome on his return to Austria ©Getty Images

"They knew I was a likely winner so they felt they had to welcome me home," suggested Schranz.

Schranz later received a decoration from the Austrian Government and a telegram from Queen Juliana of T he Netherlands arrived with the message: "Don’t be sad, you are the greatest skier."

Austrian musicians Andre Heller and Georg Danzer even released a popular novelty single, Der Karli soll leb’n, der Brundage steht daneb’n - which translates to "Karl is right, Brundage is wrong".

Back in Sapporo, Austrian Ski Federation President Karl Heinz Klee announced that the Austrian team would remain at the Games.

Much later, it was said that other members of the team including future Olympic champion Annemarie Moser-Pröll, a double silver medallist in Sapporo, and figure skater Trixi Schuba, Austria’s only gold medallist in 1972, received abusive letters.

The American embassy in Vienna was picketed and the Austrian officials who had not insisted on bringing the team home were also vilified. Effigies of Brundage were burned and the house of National Olympic Committee President Heinz Pruckner was firebombed. He stood down from the position.

FIS President Marc Hodler insisted his organisation had not disqualified Schranz and that the skier would remain eligible for the World Championships which he promised would be staged if any skiers were excluded from the Olympics.

In fact, despite the promises, no additional World Championships took place in 1972 and this prompted Schranz to retire.

He had also established a hotel in St Anton which bears his name. It remains there to the present day.

Later he became an instructor at the St Anton ski school but left after a dispute.

Then at last in the new millennium, he fulfilled his long-held dream of bringing a World Championship to St Anton. The event was held in 2001.

Karl Schranz was invited to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics ©Getty Images
Karl Schranz was invited to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics ©Getty Images

In the Olympic world, the process of reconciliation had begun as soon as Killanin succeeded Brundage as IOC President.

"I talked to Lord Killanin, he was a nice man and he said this will never happen to any other athlete," Schranz recalled.

In 1988, at an Olympic meeting in Vienna, Juan Antonio Samaranch presented Schranz with a participants medal for the Sapporo 1972 Games.

Then, in 2006, Schranz was invited to attend Turin's Olympic Winter Games by Jacques Rogge.

"We talked about what happened in Sapporo. You may say that the case is now closed," Rogge revealed later.

In 2012, the inaugural Youth Olympic Winter Games were held in Innsbruck. The Olympic flag was trooped into the stadium by distinguished champions of Austrian sport.

Included in the colour party was Karl Schranz.

"I am not emotional but it gave me the feeling that the IOC had recognised me," Schranz admitted.

Schranz also attended Sochi 2014 as a guest. He had supported their candidacy for the Games and also gave skiing lessons to Vladimir Putin.

The Austrian post office had by then issued a stamp depicting him on the slopes and in a modern-day picture to mark his 70th birthday. The stamp bore the simple words "Ski Legend".

Many believe that Schranz was instrumental in persuading sports administrators to change the regulations of amateur sport. There is no longer any distinction and the Olympics are open to all.

"I did something for the whole group of Olympic athletes. Now they are allowed to make money and they deserve to do so," Schranz said.