New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) secretary-general Barry Maister remembered Juan Antonio Samaranch as a "controversial character" who helped strengthen the world body's finances and fought hard to abolish amateurism.

Samaranch died today in Barcelona, aged 89. He was president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for 21 years from 1980 to 2001.

"Samaranch was a controversial character who contributed in many ways to the Olympic Games and wider movement during his 21 years as president," Maister said in a statement.

"What he did for the Olympic movement had broad-reaching effects. The financial strength of the IOC was improved significantly through sponsorship and the sale of broadcast rights.

"As a result the IOC today is able contribute more than 90 per cent of its broadcast revenue to aid projects and sports development around the world. This amounts to millions of dollars each year making young people's lives better through sport."

Samaranch also fought hard to abolish amateurism at the Olympic Games and welcomed in "a new era of professionalism", said Maister.

The Spaniard also increased the number of member countries in the IOC, and was responsible for adding education and culture to the Olympic framework.

The Olympic Museum in Lausanne opened under Samaranch and today New Zealand was one of many countries that promotes its Olympic and sporting history through a museum.

Maister added Samaranch was also known as autocratic and intolerant.

"There was a culture of secrecy in the IOC that I'm pleased to say is no longer with us. This culture led to the corruption scandals around Salt Lake City.

"Jacques Rogge followed Samaranch as IOC president and made changes within the IOC to ensure transparency and openness."