Lord Coe leads tributes to Olympic chief Juan Antonio Samaranch

• Former IOC president dies in Barcelona aged 89
• Coe celebrates 'an inspirational man'

Sebastian Coe has led the tributes to Juan Antonio Samaranch, describing the former president of the International Olympic Committee, who has died in hospital in Barcelona at the age of 89, as "an inspirational man".

"I have lost a friend, one that moulded my path through sport from my early 20s, and the world has lost an inspirational man," said the twice Olympic gold medallist, who is now head of the London 2012 Games. "A man that challenged us all to fight for sport, its primacy and its autonomy, a fight he led fearlessly from the front, creating an extraordinary sporting movement that reaches millions of people around the world. He was quite simply the most intuitive leader I have ever met."

Many others hailed Samaranch who, during his 21-year reign from 1980 to 2001, turned the amateurs-only Olympic Games into the professional competition of today. "We are really grieving," Jacques Rogge, the current president of the IOC, said. "For me personally, this is a big blow."

Rogge was keen to highlight his friend's contributions to the Olympic movement, in particular how he transformed the IOC from being an old boys' club into a more representative organisation. "That was one of his greatest legacies," Rogge said. "People tend to forget that in 1980, when he was elected, the IOC was a very conservative men-only club – no women. He introduced the first women in 1982, there were two. We are now up to 20, still not enough but you can see the change. He also wanted to have more women participating in the Games. In 1980 it was 18% women, today it is 45% so it's been a huge increase."

Samaranch was also responsible for setting up the court of arbitration for sport, and created a strong relationship with athletes via the IOC Athletes' Commission.

But alongside the tributes, some could not forget Samaranch's controversial rise to sporting power under Franco's fascist government in his native Spain, or the fact that the biggest scandal in Olympic history – when an investigation revealed that Salt Lake City had won the right to host the Games in 2002 after bribing IOC officials – came on his watch.

The British investigative journalist Andrew Jennings, whose book, The Lords of the Rings, alleged widespread corruption in the IOC, said: "People talk about Samaranch's legacy [but] 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 about, and nearly all those people slung out were people brought in by him. He was a very bad man."

Opinion on the man who brought us the Olympic Games as they exist today will likely remain divided long after his passing.

• Read the Guardian's obituary of Juan Antonio Samaranch here.


Anna Kessel

The GuardianTramp

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