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Controversial former Olympic head dies

Juan Antonio Samaranch - Olympic saint or sinner? Keystone

Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former head of the Lausanne-based International Olympic Committee (IOC), has died in hospital in Barcelona.

This content was published on April 21, 2010 - 14:38

Samaranch, who was 89, died of heart failure, the hospital said on Wednesday.

Previously a Spanish diplomat, he was president of the Lausanne-based IOC from 1980 to 2001. Only Pierre de Coubertin, the French baron who founded the modern Olympics, was in office longer, serving for 29 years (1896-1925).

In Switzerland, he was responsible for the new IOC headquarters in the Lausanne suburb of Vidy and for inaugurating the Olympic Museum in Lausanne.

The IOC said in a statement on its website that it had been “deeply saddened” to learn of Samaranch’s death.

His successor, the current IOC president Jacques Rogge, paid tribute to his “tremendous achievements and legacy”.

The flags outside the Olympic Museum were put at half-mast, and a book of condolences opened for visitors to sign.

The Swiss president, Doris Leuthard, said Samaranch had been a “symbol for all athletes who dreamed of taking part in the Olympics”.

When he left, the IOC’s coffers were bulging from billions of dollars in commercial revenues, the boycott era was over and the Olympic Games were firmly established as the world’s favourite sports festival.

However, Samaranch's presidency was clouded by controversy. He was hounded by critics who said the games were over-commercialised and riddled with performance-enhancing drugs, and that he perpetuated the IOC image of a private club for a pampered elite.

Samaranch's reputation was scarred most of all by the Salt Lake City scandal, which led to the expulsion of six IOC members and resignation of four others who benefited from more than $1 million (SFr1.07 million) in cash, gifts, scholarships and other favours doled out during the Utah capital’s winning bid for the 2002 Winter Games.

In addition to his son, currently a member of the International Olympic Committee, Samaranch is survived by a daughter.

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