POSTED: August 17th 2010

JOHN GOODBODY: Youth Games may turn out to be Rogge's own major legacy

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

LONDON, Aug 17: All rulers want to leave a legacy, something tangible by which they are remembered. Sport is no different and particularly the International Olympic Committee.

Dr Jacques Rogge has been president of the IOC for nine years and so far he will largely be recalled for his steadying influence on the movement rather than the introduction of many dramatic changes. The Games have certainly advanced, the income has continued to escalate but there has been nothing like the developments that occurred in the preceding 21 years of the presidency of Juan Antonio Samaranch.

Of course, many believe that the Samaranch years office were marked by the Olympics becoming too commercial, too big (although this has been argued by some people for years before
he took over) and that his legacy was blighted by the corruption over bidding, which exploded in 1998 and endangered the Olympic Movement.

However, Samaranch succeeded in rectifying many of these excesses and also set in motion the formation of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Driving force

This has been driven forward by Rogge. However, the Belgian, fundamentally a more decent and attractive man than Samaranch although nowhere near as astute politically, must have been concerned at what his legacy was going to be compared with the towering achievements of his predecessor.

Last weekend came the answer: the opening of the first Youth Olympic Games. The IOC is well aware that if the Games are going to continue to grow in importance then they must appeal to the youth of the world.

Analyses of television audiences show the relative lack of interest in this segment of the population. And that is why it was such a shrewd ploy for Sebastian Coe to emphasise London’s determination to enthuse youngsters when it successfully bid for the 2012 Games. His words were exactly what the IOC members wanted to hear.

That speech took place in Singapore in 2005 and coincidentally it is Singapore which is hosting the first YOG. About 3,600 of the world’s most gifted competitors from 204 countries, aged from 14 to 18, are taking part in 26 disciplines.

However, it is not only a sports event. The athletes will also take part in educational programmes such as the promotion of world peace, the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and the dangers of drug-taking.

Spreading the message

The idea is that these youngsters will not only be excited to continue their sporting careers into adulthood and hopefully take part in the Olympic Games but that they will return to their countries determined to spread these messages to their contemporaries.

It is a noble ambition. And Rogge emphasised the ethical element of these Youth Olympics by saying that he hoped they would help the athletes “learn the difference between winning and being a champion. To win, you merely have to cross the finish line. To be a champion, you have to inspire admiration for your character as well as for your physical gifts.”

He also admitted his nervousness when he added: "I feel like a father waiting in the delivery room for the birth to come. It is an ambitious project. We approach this with the necessary humility. I am very optimistic that this is going to be the start of a long successful series.”

If he is successful, this will certainly be an important legacy for the Olympic Movement and how Rogge may well be remembered.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2008 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 11th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.

Keywords · John Goodbody · IOC · YOG · Rogge · Samaranch

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