BARCELONA: Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), has died at the age of 89, the Barcelona hospital where he was being treated said yesterday.
Spaniard Samaranch, who was made the IOC’s honorary life president when he stepped down in 2001, was admitted to the Quiron hospital on Sunday with acute heart problems and passed away at 1325 local time (7.25pm Malaysia).
He had died as a result of “cardio-respiratory failure“ hospital doctor Rafael Esteban said in a statement.
“I cannot find the words to express the distress of the Olympic Family,” IOC president Jacques Rogge said.
“We have lost a great man, a mentor and a friend who dedicated his long and fulfilled life to the Olympics.”
Samaranch, once one of the most powerful figures in world sport who wielded influence on the Olympic movement right up until his death, had suffered a number of health problems since his retirement and was admitted to hospital several times.
He ran the IOC with absolute authority for two decades and Barcelona’s successful bid to host the 1992 Olympics was seen as his personal triumph.
Samaranch’s supporters believe he showed political skill in a difficult period to lead the Games into the era of professional sport and turn it into a huge money-spinner.
His critics argue that many of the original values of the movement were obscured in the search for commercial success, leading to high-profile bribery and drugs scandals.
He stepped down in July 2001, 21 years after he had been elected as the IOC’s seventh president, and was made life president when he handed power to Rogge.
“I am personally deeply saddened by the death of the man who built up the Olympic Games of the modern era, a man who inspired me, and whose knowledge of sport was truly exceptional,” Rogge said in a statement.
“Thanks to his extraordinary vision and talent, Samaranch was the architect of a strong and unified Olympic Movement.
“I can only pay tribute to his tremendous achievements and legacy, and praise his genuine devotion to the Olympic Movement and its values.”
At last October’s vote in Copenhagen on the host for the 2016 Games, Samaranch made an emotional appeal to IOC members to grant him a last favour and choose Madrid but they picked Rio de Janeiro instead.
“I know that I am very near the end of my time,” Samaranch said during Madrid’s final presentation.
Born in Barcelona on July 17 1920, he enjoyed success as a roller skater and led the Spanish team to the world title.
He pursued a career in sports politics in dictator Francisco Franco’s fascist Spain and won a place on the IOC in 1966.
After Franco’s death, Samaranch was appointed ambassador to the Soviet Union and the contacts he made there helped him succeed Lord Killanin as IOC president in 1980. — Reuters