Juan Antonio Samaranch was the seventh International Olympic Committee President ©Getty Images

A mass is to be held at Sacré Coeur church in Lausanne tonight to celebrate the life of Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former International Olympic Committee (IOC) President, on the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Samaranch, who died in 2010, led the Movement for more than two decades, between 1980 and 2001, at a critical time in its history.

He is credited with ushering the IOC into sport’s commercial age, enabling it to emerge strengthened from the era of boycotts and the political polarity of the Cold War.

As such, he is widely viewed as the second-most important figure in the body’s well-over-a-century-long existence, behind only its founder Pierre de Coubertin.

Among those paying tribute on Friday, Sergey Bubka, former pole-vault champion and IOC member for Ukraine, described Samaranch as "an outstanding leader of the Olympic movement".

He continued: "His legacy is admirable!

"It was an honour to have worked with Mr Samaranch and I proudly consider him as my mentor."

The USA Sports Council said: "We owe the modern Olympic Movement to Samaranch and his ability to bring sports, communication and community together.

"If anyone thought on a global scale, it was Juan Antonio Samaranch."

The COVID-19 pandemic has added fresh gloss to the Spanish diplomat’s towering Olympic legacy.

Coronavirus has bequeathed the IOC myriad problems, but want of financial resources is not one of them; this is due almost entirely to the effective money-making machinery constructed and put in place under Samaranch’s Presidency.

And while it might well be true that television and sponsorship would have delivered fabulous wealth for sport no matter who had been at the helm in Lausanne in the 1980s and 1990s, Samaranch’s adroit manoeuvres were essential to ensuring that so many of their golden eggs were laid in the IOC’s nest and not those of ambitious International Federations.

At the 136th IOC Session, President Thomas Bach said tonight's mass as "to celebrate his [Juan Antonio Samaranch] life and to thank him for all he did for the Olympic Movement" ©Getty Images
At the 136th IOC Session, President Thomas Bach said tonight's mass as "to celebrate his [Juan Antonio Samaranch] life and to thank him for all he did for the Olympic Movement" ©Getty Images

Though the commercialisation of the Games has its negative side, with wealth has come a large measure of independence, and that is mainly Samaranch’s doing.

This creation and harnessing of an IOC business model that endures to this day would alone have been enough to make Samaranch one of the most important Olympic figures of the 20th century.

But he was a diplomat first and foremost.

This was demonstrated most clearly in his masterful and endlessly patient juggling to keep the Seoul 1988 project on track for the successful conclusion that hammered the last nail into the boycott era’s coffin.

Another major achievement was to pave the way for the 1992 Games that have been the catalyst for a remarkable, and almost entirely positive, transformation of his home city, Barcelona.

If the latter part of his reign was overshadowed by the Salt Lake City scandal, he and his chief lieutenants at least acted swiftly and decisively enough to head off any serious threat to the Movement’s relatively recently re-gathered momentum.

He was not perfect.

Few would describe him as one of the foremost campaigners against drugs in sport; and he was perhaps too wary of the media to be ideal leadership material for today’s altogether more rough-and-tumble milieu.

There is also the matter of him having been, as IOC doyen Richard Pound has written "a minor governmental official under the Franco regime", something of which, as Pound also observes, "more has been made in the media than it probably deserves".

But the debt which the IOC, and Olympic sport, owes him is incalculable.