Juan Antonio Samaranch, Head of Olympics for Two Decades, Dead at Age 89

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Juan Antonio Samaranch
Juan Antonio Samaranch

Juan Antonio Samaranch, widely credited with fundamentally changing the landscape of the Olympics, has died. He was aged 89.

“I cannot find the words to express the distress of the Olympic Family,” said IOC President Jacques 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. 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. We have lost a great man, a mentor and a friend who dedicated his long and fulfilled life to Olympism.”

Born in Barcelona in 1920, Samaranch was a diplomat and sports administrator before leading the IOC for 21 years.

Soon after his election, Samaranch worked toward the abolition of amateurism at the Olympic Games. Despite two boycotts in Moscow in 1980 and in Los Angeles in 1984, Samaranch maintained the quality of the Games and increased the number of participating countries. He was the man behind improving the financial health of the Olympic Movement, developing TV rights and sponsorship negotiations and strengthening Olympic Solidarity, the organ by which the IOC redistributes its revenue in order to ensure the training and participation of athletes at the Olympic Games.

He was responsible for the new IOC headquarters building in Vidy and for inaugurating The Olympic Museum in Lausanne in Switzerland.

He championed the representation of women in the IOC, overseeing the entry of the first women members in the 1980s. He was also responsible for setting up the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), and for involving the athletes themselves in the decision-making of the IOC by creating the IOC Athletes’ Commission.