Juan Antonio Samaranch: Controversial leader who was loved and loathed

TO HIS supporters he was the saviour of the Olympics, to his detractors he was a ruthless former fascist who turned a blind eye to years of corruption in the Olympic movement.

Juan Antonio Samaranch, who died yesterday aged 89, was a man whose 21 years as president of the International Olympic Committee divided opinion. What no-one disputes is that Samaranch transformed the Olympic movement from a struggling, amateurish organisation on the point of bankruptcy into a billion-pound professional industry.

Samaranch took over as IOC president from the Irishman Lord Killanin just after the Moscow Olympics, which had been devastated by the USA boycott. Previous Games had seen a financial disaster in Montreal in 1976 and real tragedy in Munich in 1972, when Palestinian terrorists attacked the Israeli team.

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Samaranch established his power base quickly, building up a group of like-minded IOC members who backed his plans and were rewarded by key positions in the movement. He wanted the top athletes in the world in every sport, so amateurism was abolished and a fresh approach to television and sponsorship rights began.

His achievements included fighting for the representation of women in the IOC and he was responsible for 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 involving athletes in the IOC via the IOC Athletes' Commission.

Sir Craig Reedie, the former British Olympic Association chairman, who has been an IOC member since 1994, said that Samaranch also played a role in expanding the number sports in the Olympics, such as badminton.

"Some people say he was ruthless, I would describe him as effective," Reedie said.

"He worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he was very interested in everything about sport – even down to who was going to become the secretary of a small sporting organisation – and he always thought well ahead."

For others, Samaranch was a controversial figure, stemming from his rise to sporting power via General Franco's fascist government in Spain. Franco appointed him as government secretary for sport in 1967, when he also took over as president of the Spanish National Olympic Committee and became an IOC member.

Samaranch's years as president, however, included growing suspicions of corruption within the IOC, which were finally proved correct by the Salt Lake City scandal, which led to the expulsion of six IOC members and resignation of four others, with others given sanctions.

An investigation found they had benefited from bribes – money, gifts and college scholarships – during the city's successful bid for the 2002 Winter Games.

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For British investigative author Andrew Jennings, Samaranch is one of sport's villains. Jennings, who wrote the books The Lords of the Rings and The Great Olympic Swindle and discovered a photo of Samaranch in his Franco days giving a fascist salute, said: " To me, his Olympic legacy is corruption and doping. We know there were positive doping tests in Moscow but these were covered up. The Games were being privatised and he didn't want to put off the sponsors.

"The IOC nearly collapsed in 1999 when the corruption became known and nearly all those people slung out were people brought in by him. He came from a dictatorship, a one-party corrupt dictatorship in Spain, and applied the Franco model to running the IOC."

Reedie disagrees, however. He said: "The good certainly outweighed the bad, if there was any bad at all.

"It was Samaranch who set up the commission to investigate the allegations, it was he who set up the reform commission and it was he who set up the ethics commission.

"Yes he must have been embarrassed by it, but he then did something about it."