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Page last updated at 12:03 GMT, Wednesday, 21 April 2010 13:03 UK

Obituary: Juan Antonio Samaranch

By Peter Scrivener

Juan Antonio Samaranch
Samaranch was part of the failed Madrid bid to host the 2016 Olympics

Juan Antonio Samaranch is widely credited with rescuing the Olympic Games and turning it into the worldwide phenomenon you see today.

When the Spaniard, who has died at the age of 89, was elected president of the International Olympic Committee in the wake of the 1980 Moscow Games, he inherited an organisation that was on its knees.

There was reportedly little money in the bank and the United States had just led a 65-nation boycott of the Olympics after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

In the following 21 years, Samaranch turned around the fortunes of the Olympics through television deals and sponsorship and increased the number of participating nations with each passing Olympiad.

His two-decade tenure as the head of the IOC was seen as largely successful, but has been overshadowed by accusations of corruption within the organisation and his links to fascist Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco in his homeland.

Samaranch was born into a wealthy Barcelona family, the son of a textile manufacturer, on 17 July 1920.

He was educated at the Barcelona Higher Institute of Business Studies and joined the family business after the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War.

He competed in boxing and roller hockey and used his wealth to promote the latter sport and help set up an international championship in Barcelona in 1951.

Three years later he joined the Spanish Olympic Committee and was elected to the Barcelona city council.

He went on to serve as Spain's chief representative at the 1956 winter Olympics and the 1960 and 64 summer Games before being appointed government secretary for sports by Spanish dictator Franco and being elected as a member of the IOC in 1966. A year later Samaranch became president of the Spanish Olympic Committee.

Franco died in 1975, by which time while Samaranch had progressed to vice president of the IOC, a post he held from 1974-78 and Spain's transitional government decided the best way to deal with him was to offer him a "golden exile".

Subsequently Samaranch became Spain's first ambassador to the Soviet Union and Mongolia in 1977. He held the post for three years and the contacts he made in the Soviet Union, a sworn enemy of the Franco regime, helped him win votes for his election to the presidency of the IOC in 1980.

The Olympic movement had endured a traumatic trio of summer Games before he took over with the tragedy of the Munich massacre in 1972 followed by the financial disaster that was the 1976 Games in Montreal and the US-led boycott of Moscow's Olympics.

Samaranch was elected the seventh president of the IOC prior to the Moscow Games, following Lord Killanin's resignation, but he officially took over after the event, and immediately set about resurrecting the fortunes of the Olympics.

Lord Killanin (left) and Juan Antonio Samaranch
Samaranch replaced Lord Killanin as president of the IOC in 1980

At the time, the Olympics were seen to be a financial and organisational burden on a host city, a point emphasised by the fact that in 1978 only Los Angeles had put itself forward to host the 1984 showpiece.

However, the first summer Games under Samaranch's jurisdiction were deemed a success, despite a Soviet Union-led Eastern Bloc boycott. They pulled out just two months before the opening ceremony, citing security concerns and "chauvinistic sentiments and an anti-Soviet hysteria being whipped up in the United States".

One hundred and forty nations took part, 60 more than in Moscow, and the Games were the first since the Los Angeles Olympics of 1932 to make a profit.

Samaranch continued to increase the number of participating nations, with 160 turning up in Seoul in 1988, rising to 199 for the Sydney Olympics in 2000 - his last Games in charge.

They were tinged by the death of his wife of 45 years Maria Teresa. Samaranch left Sydney on the second day of the Games to return home to see his gravely ill wife Maria, but she had passed away before he arrived. He returned to the Olympics four days later where the flags were lowered to half mast.

Under his guidance, the IOC also altered its sponsorship agreements, choosing to partner with global sponsors rather than allowing each host city to select local ones, and brokered new broadcasting deals that helped the balance sheet hugely.

Samaranch also wanted the best athletes competing at the Olympics, which led to the gradual acceptance of professional athletes.

While some saw this as a natural progression that would help the Olympic movement flourish, critics lambasted his over-commercialisation of what used to be an amateur competition.

There were also accusations of corruption levelled at Samaranch surrounding a culture of favours extorted from bidding cities by IOC members.

This came to a head during the bidding process for the 2002 Winter Olympics. In 1999, 10 IOC members were forced to resign over scandals involving the way Salt Lake City had secured the Games.

Samaranch did take steps to curb this excesses but it is argued that he must have been aware of what was going on and that he only acted after media pressure.

In 2001, he did not reapply for the presidency and he was succeeded by current incumbent Jacques Rogge.

However, he remained involved with the organisation and was named Honorary President for Life of the IOC.

Samaranch campaigned for Madrid to be awarded the 2016 Games, and was considered key to the city finishing second in the voting, behind Rio de Janeiro but ahead of Tokyo and favourites Chicago.

"I know that I am very near the end of my time. I am, as you know 89 years old," he told IOC representatives at the vote in October 2009.

"May I ask you to consider granting my country the honour and also the duty to organise the Games in 2016."

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see also
Former IOC chief Samaranch dies
22 Apr 10 |  Olympics
Former Olympic chief in hospital
19 Dec 07 |  Beijing 2008
Rogge re-elected as IOC president
09 Oct 09 |  Olympics
Madrid eyes Samaranch influence
05 Jul 05 |  Olympics 2012
Samaranch 'aided' Rogge
17 Jul 01 |  Olympic Votes
Samaranch: Stylish exit
16 Jul 01 |  Olympic Votes
Rogge ready to assume power
16 Jul 01 |  Olympic Votes

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