Liam Morgan

Tributes have poured in from the sporting world and beyond this week following the death of former International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) President Bruno Grandi.

Grandi passed away in his native Italy last Thursday (September 12). He was 85.

A funeral service took place in the Italian stalwart's home parish of Viale dell'Appennino, located in the province of Forli-Cesena, on Monday (September 16), where people from far and wide came to pay their respects to a man described by Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) President Giovanni Malagò as a "giant" of gymnastics.

Participants at the Opening Ceremony of the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships in Baku also held a minute's silence in his honour, while a similar gesture will almost certainly be made at the artistic equivalent in Stuttgart next month.

Grandi may have relinquished the FIG reigns in 2016, having served as its President for two decades, but his influence over the sport he dedicated the majority of his life to will still be felt at both events.

His most notable legacy is the controversial abolition of the perfect 10 score following the well-documented and multiple issues with the judging at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, a decision still dissected in detail by gymnastics purists and fanatics to this day.

Making such a fundamental and monumental change in a sport and to its rules is always going to divide opinion and Grandi was never going to please everyone.

Gymnastics "giant" Bruno Grandi has died at the age of 85 ©Getty Images

In some ways, however, the fallout to the scrapping of the perfect 10, which turned Nadia Comăneci from an Olympic gold medallist into an instant legend, embodies Grandi's time at the helm – some might have disagreed with his methods, but they respected him nonetheless.

"Some said they wanted to throw me out the window, but they re-elected me all the same," Grandi told insidethegames back in 2016.

That they did. Following a failed attempt to replace Russia's nine-time Olympic medallist Yuri Titov in 1992, Grandi became FIG President in Atlanta in 1996 and was re-elected on no fewer than four occasions before he himself decided it was time for change.

While it is fair to say he was not universally popular during his tenure, it is equally easy to see why members of the FIG continued to place its faith in an official some said was "obsessed with justice".

For a start, his passion and enthusiasm for his sport was irrefutable. Today, there seem to be too many officials who put politics above principle, who put the protection of their own position above the athletes they are supposed to preside over and who rarely attend events in their own sport.

That is not a label that can be placed on Grandi who, always, on the surface at least, had the best interests of the FIG at heart.

An example of his passion is the 2016 Congress. Shortly after Morinari Watanabe was voted in as his successor, Grandi hit out at the membership's failure to adopt a series of statutes designed to remove conflicts of interest.

"We have preferred to maintain intact this system of doubts and suspicions which weighs negatively on our competitions, rather than introduce conditions conducive to greater transparency," he said at the time.

Grandi could have been forgiven for being nonplussed about such results, considering it would no longer directly affect him. His time was up. He could simply have walked out of the door, without a second glance.

Instead, the Italian took great umbrage of what he perceived as a failure from the FIG members to change the organisation for the better.

It would be difficult to argue Grandi himself did not achieve that during his term at the helm and, although the scrapping of the perfect 10 may have defined his Presidency, it was not the only major change he oversaw.

Bruno Grandi oversaw the scrapping of the perfect 10 score, which made a star of Nadia Comăneci ©Getty Images
Bruno Grandi oversaw the scrapping of the perfect 10 score, which made a star of Nadia Comăneci ©Getty Images

The FIG has been elevated into the top tier of Olympic sports, alongside athletics and swimming, while Grandi also raised the minimum age for competitors at the Olympics and World Championships to 16.

The sport has also become more global, a point Grandi made rather eloquently a few years ago: "When I started as FIG President, medal ceremonies were quite monotone," he said.

"It was always the same anthems, and I was used to going to sleep with the Romanian and former Soviet countries' anthems in my head.

"Now you can see eight gymnasts from eight different countries competing for a medal in a final, which is better for the interest in the sport."

Grandi would be the first to admit his reign was far from perfect, while the fact he was able to maintain control of the FIG for 20 years hardly screams good governance.

Gymnastics may be a top-tier sport, but its World Championships and major events, even with the efforts of the supreme and sensational Simone Biles, often struggle to make an impact beyond its core fanbase, an issue other Olympic disciplines also suffer from outside the Games period.

In an attempt to address this and improve the spectacle, gymnastics events have made considerable steps into "sportainment" territory, particularly the 2015 Artistic World Championships in Glasgow, where seasoned campaigners – who had seen far more competitions than I – were taken aback by the pizzazz on show.

This was evident during the latter years of his Presidency but was hardly a staple when he first took over in 1996. Times have changed, of course, and the FIG is now taking a different direction under Watanabe.

It was not only for his work at the FIG that Grandi has been remembered for this week. He presided over the Italian Gymnastics Federation from 1977 to 2000 and was vice president of the CONI from 1987 to 2005. 

"Bruno Grandi has taught us to defend the CONI, to defend the institution of the sporting order," Malagò said.

Gymnastics continues to try and reach out to a wider fanbase ©Getty Images
Gymnastics continues to try and reach out to a wider fanbase ©Getty Images

"He called me 10 days ago, gave me a boost and gave me more incentive to continue in this direction: a great Italian and a great sportsman, as well as a friend, is leaving."

Grandi was also a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for four years, between 2000 and 2004, before he reached the age limit of 70. The FIG did not have a representative on the body from that time until Watanabe's election in 2018.

Other organisations, including the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) and the International Judo Federation (IJF), have released statements of tribute to Grandi following his passing.

The ASOIF said his various roles in sport "illustrates the breadth and depth of his work in international sport over many years", while IJF President Marius Vizer added the Italian was "a great figure of sports, who dedicated his entire life to the service of sport, fostering its values and inspiring generations of champions".

"His sterling work, his unflagging energy and visionary leadership will never be forgotten," Vizer added.

IOC President Thomas Bach said: "With the passing of Bruno Grandi the Olympic Movement has lost a great athlete.

"In everything he did one could feel and experience his great passion for gymnastics and for the gymnasts. One of his top priorities was always to ensure fair refereeing. He fought for this with all his energy and passion, something that his many friends and myself will remember him for."