British Swimming has paid tribute to its chairman Maurice Watkins after his death at the age of 79 ©British Swimming

British Swimming has paid tribute to its chairman Maurice Watkins, who has died at the age of 79.

Watkins, who was appointed to the role in December 2012, oversaw Britain achieve its best ever medal return from a World Swimming Championships, as well as impressive medal hauls at the Rio 2016 Olympics and Paralympics.

Under Watkins leadership in 2013 Britain appointed Chris Spice as national performance director and Bill Furniss as head coach.

Two years later at the 2015 World Aquatics Championships at Kazan in Russia, Britain achieved its best ever swimming return, finishing with nine medals including five golds.

At the Rio 2016 Olympics, Britain won six swimming medals, while at the 2016 Paralympics, Britain won 47 swimming medals, including 16 golds.

Meanwhile at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Britain claimed eight medals in the pool, including four golds.

Watkins also served as chairman of the European Swimming League (LEN) Legal Committee.

Through this role he met Pope Francis in 2018 and was presented with a commemorative British Swimming cap to mark the occasion.

Paying tribute, British Swimming chief executive Jack Buckner said"I have been fortunate to experience Maurice's personal dignity and humility.

“He has been a leader of deep wisdom and patient intelligence, the wise steward at the heart of the sport.

"Even in his last days, his total focus was on Tokyo and the great events which unfolded there. Maurice, a piece of these medals belong to you.

"Thanks for your massive contribution to British Swimming and everything you have done for British sport."

UK Sport chief executive Sally Munday added: "I was so saddened to hear about Maurice. My thoughts are with his family and friends.

"Maurice was so well known in the sporting community and the sheer variety of sports that he was involved in throughout his life goes some way to showing the impact he had on the British sporting landscape.

"As chair of British Swimming, he must have been immensely proud of the success that Britain’s aquatics athletes had in Tokyo in the recent weeks. He will be sorely missed."

In a statement LEN said: "The LEN family learnt with immense sadness the passing of Maurice Watkins, chairman of British Swimming and chair of the LEN Legal Committee. 

"One of the longest serving chairmen in the LEN family, an outstanding professional who had a key role in reshaping LEN’s legal background."

Away from swimming, Watkins was a qualified solicitor, served as a director of Manchester United Football Club for 28 years and was involved in fundraising for the National Health Service Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital Charity for more than 15 years.

In 2011, he was given the honour of Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his services to charity.