POSTED: June 14th 2013

Rogge pinpoints the row over the 2008 torch relay as his disappointment as IOC President

Flashback: Jacques Rogge greeted Russian President Vladimir Putin as outgoing IOC Chief Juan Antonio Samaranch looked on in Moscow after the elections / Russian Presidential Office
Flashback: Jacques Rogge greeted Russian President Vladimir Putin as outgoing IOC Chief Juan Antonio Samaranch looked on in Moscow after the elections / Russian Presidential Office

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

(SFC) Dr. Jacques Rogge, whose 12  year presidency of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ends in September, has restored much credibility to the Olympic Movement after the ‘votes-for-cash’ scandal of 1999.

The waters are much calmer now and the financial situation has continued to improve but when he was interviewed for the Olympic Review, the official magazine of the Movement, I asked him whether there was anything that he would have done differently during his period in office.

“Nothing fundamental” he replied. “What disappointed me was the turmoil around the Torch Relay ahead of the Games in Beijing in 2008. We were sucked into a political issue and it became a challenge. It was a difficult time for the Olympic Movement.” Opponents of the political regime in China protested about human rights in that country with a series of attempts to interrupt the torch relay, leading to scuffles with the Chinese guards, escorting the torch, and also with local police forces.

Dr. Rogge, who competed in the Games in sailing for Belgium, said that what he was most proud of during his presidency was “the quality of the Games. This is a core mission for the IOC and something that along with the Organising Committees (OCOGs), the IOC has worked very hard at. The success of the Games and the well-being of the athletes is the most important thing.

“Also, I am very proud of the creation of the Youth Olympic Games (YOG), the fight for Olympic values against doping and illegal betting, and finally, the current strong financial situation of the Olympic Movement.”

The YOG has been an enterprise close to the heart of Dr. Rogge but he says that he wants to see them develop not in terms of size but in quality. He explains: ”We don’t want them to be too big, too expensive and too sophisticated. We don’t want them to be a mini Olympic Games. We want them to retain their own defining identity. If we can keep the YOG values that are present today and develop within their limited size, I would be very happy.”

Dr. Rogge became enamored of the Olympics from an early age. When he took part in the 1968 Olympics he recalls returning from sailing late one afternoon and seeing Bob Beamon’s world record long jump on a small black and white set television in the Olympic Village restaurant in Acapulco. “I remember going to my room after dinner and pacing out 8.90 metres”(Beamon’s leap)” in the corridor. You had to measure it out to realise how astounding it was.”

Being IOC President is an immensely demanding post. Dr. Rogge says: ”You have to be reachable night and day every week. We have special links with 204 National Olympic Committees, with 35 International Federations and we have to work closely with the 10 sponsors of the IOC and with roughly 130 television rights holders. So this is a huge group of stakeholders and you always have to be ready to work on the most unexpected things. There is also a lot of travelling –around 150 flights a year and a lot of meetings. “

Dr. Rogge said the most challenging aspect of running the Olympic Movement was to “manage the expectations of the stakeholders. We can give great support to our stakeholders technically through the transfer of knowledge and financially. But if I may say so, they can be quite demanding and, of course, you try and give them the best possible services to them because we are a service organisation. But sometimes, their wishes and appetites are bigger than our capacity.”

And what will he do in retirement ? He plans to spend more time with his family, help his grandchildren with their sports development (“without being too pushy”), and enjoy his own interest in modern art and reading. He also wants to undertake more sporting activities. “I will keep myself fit by riding my bike and running on a treadmill and, on a good day, I will get out sailing !”

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th 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 · Jacques Rogge · IOC · Olympics · Beijing 2008

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