New IOC president set to oversee first OlympicsPosted: Saturday December 08, 2001 2:17 AM
MONTE CARLO, Monaco (AP) -- During his first five months in office, Jacques Rogge has barely paused to catch his breath. He's been circling the globe, visiting world capitals from Washington to Beijing and meeting with presidents and prime ministers.
With the Olympic flame on its way to Salt Lake City, Rogge is getting ready for his first games as president of the International Olympic Committee.
Little has surprised the former orthopedic surgeon as he adjusts to his role as the most powerful man in international sport.
"No one expected the 11th of September, of course," Rogge said. "It has influenced sport and influenced the preparation for Salt Lake City. For the rest, nothing. Nothing has surprised me other than this tragic incident."
The 59-year-old Belgian was typically unfazed as he reflected on Salt Lake City, doping, television rights and other issues in an interview in Monaco, where he was attending European Olympic meetings. He will chair the year-end meetings of the IOC's ruling executive board in Lausanne, Switzerland, next weekend.
Rogge was elected July 16 to succeed Juan Antonio Samaranch, who headed the IOC for 21 years. Rogge has spent much of his brief presidency dealing with the aftermath of Sept. 11, stressing that the Feb. 8-24 Olympics will go ahead and athletes and spectators will be safe.
"In this particular circumstance, the Games can be an answer to violence rather than a victim of violence," he said. "It's a sign of a society that continues to live normally and does not hide from the fear of terrorism. It's a show of normality."
To show he means it, Rogge intends to break with tradition and sleep in the athletes' village rather than a five-star hotel.
While security has been increased, Rogge said the measures will not detract from the atmosphere.
"Security is very much a secret affair," he said. "They are there, they are ready, but they don't show themselves. Athletes and spectators should not be concerned they will be in a military camp, absolutely not."
The Salt Lake Games were tarnished by the bribery scandal which led to the ouster of the organizing committee's top two officials and the expulsion or resignation of 10 IOC members in 1998 and '99.
Rogge has lobbied for observance of an "Olympic truce" during the Salt Lake Games, but President Bush ruled out any military cease-fire. Instead, the United States will submit a U.N. resolution advocating safe passage of all athletes to and from the Games.
"I'm a pragmatic man," Rogge said. "We have to be realistic. The IOC will never bring peace to the world. The IOC can only express a symbolic appeal. How can the IOC bring peace to the world when the governments or religions do not achieve this?"
Such an admission sets Rogge apart from Samaranch, who liked to espouse the Olympics as a true vehicle for world peace -- a position some attributed to a desire for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Rogge has moved quickly to move the IOC forward. He commissioned audits of the IOC's books, started restructuring the bureaucracy and called a special assembly for November 2002 in Mexico to review the post-scandal reforms adopted in 1999.
Rogge also has imposed a freeze on the number of sports (28), events (300) and athletes (10,500) for the 2004 Athens Olympics, and ordered a study of which sports should be on future programs.
"I'm doing what I think is needed," he said. "I feel absolutely no need in behaving differently or being seen as different. I know who I am and what I'm doing. I have no need to show an identity. People will judge me on what I do, that's all."
Doping is a major issue for Rogge, who maintains a tough line on drug cheats. While there is evidence that tainted food supplements can contain the steroid nandrolone, Rogge said that's not a valid excuse.
"We have warned all the athletes, 'Don't take food supplements,'" he said.
Rogge is still considering what role Canada's Dick Pound should play in his administration. After finishing third in the presidential election, Pound resigned as the IOC's marketing chief and television rights negotiator. He annoyed Rogge by writing a letter to Olympic sponsors questioning the IOC's commitment to reform.
The men met for a third time last Monday to discuss Pound's future, but no decision was made.
"There's no haste," Rogge said, noting that the IOC has long-term deals with sponsors and broadcasters. NBC has U.S. TV rights through the 2008 Olympics in a $3.5 billion deal.
The next contract will cover the 2010 Winter Games. So far, the IOC has received bids from Vancouver-Whistler in Canada; Salzburg, Austria; Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina; Bern, Switzerland; and South Korea. Spain is expected to submit a bid next month. Finalists will be selected Aug. 29, with the winner chosen in 2003.
Rogge said the IOC will consult with the broadcast industry after the Salt Lake Games. He said the IOC will watch how the fast-changing media and internet industries evolve, and hope for a more favorable economic climate.
"It's useless to negotiate in an economic slump because ultimately the broadcasters only will give the TV rights according to the advertising sales they believe they can make," he said.
Meanwhile, Rogge and his wife are ready to settle down in Lausanne. They will rent a serviced apartment on the top level of the Lausanne Palace Hotel, where Samaranch lived in a suite for most of his presidency.
"If you rent an apartment in town with all the services, you pay more," said Rogge, who receives no salary and has his rent paid for by the IOC. "So this is cheaper for the IOC."