Tan Eng Liang, centre, was a respected sports administrator in Singapore for nearly half a century ©SNOC

International Olympic Committee (IOC) vice-president Ng Ser Miang has described Singaporean sports administrator Dr Tan Eng Liang who has died aged 85 as "irreplaceable" as he led tributes to his former colleague.

“Eng Liang was a great and passionate sports leader, his love and commitment for sport was both unconditional and absolute," Ser Miang said.

"Over the years, we worked closely and seamlessly for Singapore and the Olympic Movement. He laid the foundation for sports infrastructure and sports eco system for Singapore and contributed much to sport internationally,”

Eng Liang’s family revealed that he had been battling cancer.

"We will miss him dearly, dad devoted his life to serving the community particularly in the field of sports," the family said in a statement.

"Even in the midst of illness, he continued to contribute with grit and courage.

"He was an inspiration to us all, a bright star has dimmed but it shines in our hearts forever."

Shortly before his death, Eng Liang had released a poignant message to the Singaporean sports community.

Eng Liang had been selected for Singapore’s water polo squad at the Melbourne 1956 Olympics but Singapore lost to both Germany and Italy and he did not play in either match.

He did win silver at the Asian Games in 1958 and 1966 and won gold at the South East Asia (SEA) Peninsula Games in 1965 and 1967.

He was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and received a doctorate in Chemistry.

In 1972, Eng Liang went into Parliament as a member for the River Valley constituency.

He served as Minister for State Development for three years from 1975 and Senior Minister of State for Finance from 1979 to 1980.

Tan Eng Liang, back row third from right, travelled to the Melbourne Olympics as part of Singapore's water polo team in 1956©SNOC
Tan Eng Liang, back row third from right, travelled to the Melbourne Olympics as part of Singapore's water polo team in 1956©SNOC

He also acted as Singapore’s Chef de Mission from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, a role he also fulfilled at Beijing 2008 as well as at two Commonwealth Games, two Asian Games, and six SEA Games.

He was vice-president of the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) for 28 years and was also closely involved with Singapore's Sports Council from its inception.

“He was not only a sporting giant on whose shoulders we stood on, he was a veritable roaring, no-nonsense giant who demanded the best not only from athletes and officials but from himself, too," SNOC President Tan Chuan-Jin said.

"He also had a heart of gold and cared deeply about our athletes, sports and Singapore,”

In his latter years Eng Liang endowed a fund to develop water polo in Singapore with SGD500,000 (£298,000/$370,000/€345,000).

Only a few weeks before his death he had been given an honorary 5th Dan black belt for his contribution to taekwondo by the Singapore Taekwondo Federation.