- 22 Apr 2010
- IOC News
Jacques Rogge pays tribute to Juan Antonio Samaranch
The Marqués de Samaranch was a personality known around the world. It is no exaggeration to say that he raised the profile of the Olympic Games and the Olympic Movement to such an extent that he made the Games what they are today and modernised the Movement. In so doing, he also became synonymous with the International Olympic Committee.
I learned first-hand how closely President Samaranch had become linked to the institution he led for 21 years when I took over as President. It was not a rare occurrence, even two or three years after my election, to meet dignitaries or officials who would recognise my face, link it to the IOC, but then address me as Mr Samaranch, which always made me laugh.
His all-pervasive personality was so great that, in some people’s minds, the man and the institution could not be split. Indeed, wherever the Honorary President travelled, he always inspired a love and respect at one and the same time for the man and for the institution he had managed so skilfully over the years.
I first met Mr Samaranch more than 25 years ago when he visited the Belgian National Olympic Committee. I had my first real meeting with him on the day of my election in October 1989 as President of the European Olympic Committees. Soon after, I found myself with him on a whirlwind tour of the newly emerging former Soviet States, which of course had newly formed NOCs. As we helped these newly emerging nations, the two of us formed a strong relationship of trust and respect.
My trust and respect for him only grew stronger over the years as I witnessed his passion for and devotion to Olympism, his exceptional knowledge of sport and the energetic manner in which he approached each day.
President Samaranch was the architect of the Olympic Games of the modern era. It was thanks to his extraordinary vision and talent that the Olympic Movement became strong and unified, and his tremendous achievements will leave a legacy that will continue long into the future.
Among his many accomplishments, Mr Samaranch will long be remembered for championing the representation of women in the IOC (he oversaw the entry of the first female members in the 1980s); working towards the abolition of amateurism at the Olympic Games; enhancing the quality of the Games and increasing the number of participating countries despite the boycotts of Moscow in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1984; and improving the financial health of the Olympic Movement.
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. In addition, he inaugurated The Olympic Museum in Lausanne.
But for all his many public achievements and his instantly recognisable public persona, Mr Samaranch was also an intensely personal man, even a man of few words. At times people even described him as austere with his speech, although this was never my view, knowing him as I did from our business trips together around the globe. He was always a man with a warm personality, always supportive.
The side that people didn’t see was the man who had the touching habit of always buying a stack of postcards and stamps wherever he went and sending them from the most remote places to his grandchildren.
I have lost a mentor and a friend; the world has lost a truly great man.