The world of sport is in mourning following the death in Barcelona on Wednesday of Juan Antonio Samaranch, the honorary life president of the International Olympic Committee. He was 89.
Samaranch will be remembered as the man who modernised the Olympic Movement. It was an arduous task that he performed with great distinction during the 21 years he was IOC president, a period of office only two years shorter than that of its founder Pierre de Coubertin.
In that time he worked tirelessly to bring amateurism to an end, increase the number of countries taking part in the Olympic Games and raise the standard of the event. He also resolved the IOC’s financial problems, ended the political boycotts that had undermined the Olympics and was instrumental in the creation of the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Ever the modernist and visionary, in the 1980s he successfully campaigned for women to be allowed to sit on the IOC.
Born in Barcelona in 1920, Samaranch was a sports lover from an early age and excelled as a roller-hockey player. He began his political career at Barcelona City Council before gaining a seat on the Spanish Olympic Committee in 1956 and becoming its president in 1967, a post he would hold for three years. In 1966 he was elected to the IOC, holding the vice-presidency between 1974 and 1977. That same year he was appointed Spanish ambassador to the USSR and Mongolia.
I met Juan Antonio when I started to work for FIFA, over 35 years ago, and I can vouch for the fact that he was a great football fan and supported this beautiful game with genuine enthusiasm.
The defining moment in his life came in 1980 when he was elected IOC President. Aside from all his other achievements, he would take special pride at having the honour of awarding the 1992 Olympics to his home city of Barcelona.
He stood down as president in 2001, at which point he was named honorary life president. It was during his term in office that he struck up a close friendship and working relationship with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter, who has been an IOC member since 1999.
“I met Juan Antonio when I started to work for FIFA, over 35 years ago, and I can vouch for the fact that he was a great football fan and supported this beautiful game with genuine enthusiasm,” said Blatter on learning of Samaranch’s death.
“I remember that in 1996 he was responsible for bringing women’s football into the Olympic Movement, one of the most important landmarks in the history of the discipline. We worked tenaciously together in support of transparency and fair play and our efforts came to fruition with the creation of the World Anti-Doping Agency. What we will remember most of all will be his great sense of commitment, his courage and his desire to safeguard sport and its values.”
Though also a businessman, journalist, politician and ambassador, Samaranch was, more than anything else, a consummate diplomat. He used his vision of the future and his negotiating skills to promote the development of sport, work for which he was recognised around the world.
Samaranch was known, admired and respected wherever he went, proof of which is provided by the countless awards and distinctions he received throughout his life. A tireless worker, he remained involved in numerous sporting initiatives until his final days and died without having fulfilled his long-held ambition of seeing the Games awarded to Madrid.