Former IOC chief Juan Antonio Samaranch dead at 89

BARCELONA: Spain''s Juan Antonio Samaranch, one of the longest-serving presidents of the International Olympic Committee who was credited with commercialising the Games, died Wednesday. He was 89.

Samaranch, who headed the Olympic movement from 1980-2001, passed away at 1:25 pm (1125 GMT) at the Quiron Hospital where he was admitted on Sunday suffering from acute coronary insufficiency, it said in a statement.

An honorary president for life of the IOC, he helped to revolutionise sponsorship and broadcasting deals for major events, seeking global sponsors instead of national federations making their own local arrangements.

"Thanks to his extraordinary vision and talent, Samaranch was the architect of a strong and unified Olympic Movement," IOC President Jacques Rogge said in a statement.

"I am personally deeply saddened by the death of the man who built up the Olympic Games of the modern era, a man who inspired me, and whose knowledge of sport was truly exceptional."

His term at the helm of the IOC -- only Pierre de Coubertin, the "father" of the modern Olympics and IOC chief from 1896 to 1925, has held the post longer -- was marked by a major ethics scandal which led to a tighening of the rules.

The IOC faced federal and congressional investigations in the United States into revelations that its members were given paid vacations, shopping sprees and cash payments to sway support for Salt Lake City''s successful bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Under Samaranch''s watch, the IOC adopted ethics reforms that severely restricted interaction between committee members and cities bidding for the Olympics in response to the scandal.

Born on July 17, 1920, into a rich Catalan family which made its fortune from the textile industry, he served as Spain''s minister for sport and ambassador to the Soviet Union during the right-wing regime of General Francisco Franco.

Samaranch remained active in Spanish sports administration after stepping down as the head of the IOC and was a key part of Madrid''s failed bids to hold the Olympics in 2012, which London eventually won, and 2016, which went to Rio de Janeiro.