The former head of the International Olympic Committee passed away today in a Barcelona hospital at the age of 89.
Samaranch, who was the leader of the International Olympic Committee from 1980-2001, was the IOC President when Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Olympic Games.
I still remember his voice when I attended the closing ceremonies at McMahon Stadium. “I now declare the Winter Games of Calgary closed”.
Samaranch’s legacy might have been tarnished later in his career by the 2002 Salt Lake City bid scandal where 10 IOC members received exquisite benefits from the Salt Lake City Bid Committee. Those benefits included ski trips, Super Bowl tickets, scholarships for children, and plastic surgery.
But Samaranch oversaw a complete transformation about how the world public sees the Olympics. He helped make the Olympic Games important through the 1990’s after a period of turmoil and instability that faced the Olympic Movement from 1972-1984.
Samaranch was instrumental in cleaning up the serious drug problem that faced the Olympic movement. Under Samaranch’s guidance, the World Anti-Doping Agency was formed.
When retiring in 2001, Samaranch left the IOC in a strong financial position. Due to an impressive period of marketing over twenty years, the IOC was a multi-billion dollar industry. The IOC improved commercial revenues with strong partnerships with McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Visa and General Electric, and television rights with NBC.
Samaranch also oversaw a transformation in eligibility. He helped make the Olympic Games available to all– amateur and professional. He opened the Olympic doors to the ATP, NBA and NHL. Thanks to Samaranch, we can now watch the best athletes in the world in their respective sports. Hopefully FIFA will soon realize they should send their best to the Olympics too.