Business as Usual as Jacques Rogge Approaches His Olympic Lap of Honour – Keir Radnedge
September 5, 2013
Jacques Rogge, the Olympic president who developed saying nothing meaningful into an art form, did not break with personal tradition as he bade a formal farewell to the media in Argentina. Of course the media was slightly disappointed but not surprised.
The hallmark of Rogge’s 12-year leadership of the International Olympic Committee has been one of solid understatement: never treating a potential earthquake as anything more than a minor tremor and always trusting his fellow workers to deliver on their responsibilities.
Some observers have described him as ‘lucky’ in the latter sphere but he should be given credit for a subtle skill to ensure that, by and large, he had the right people around him. After that it was a question of working with the sort of precision which served him in the ‘real world’ as an orthpaedic surgeon.
The staging of his fade-out matched the occasion. His executive board skated so deftly through its work ahead of the IOC’s 125th Session in Buenos Aires that the business was wrapped up with a day to spare: hence the delegates had more time to devote themselves to lobbying ahead of the votes on the 2020 city and ‘new’ sport as well as, most important, Rogge’s successor.
Rogge thus emerged in front of the media, ahead of schedule, like a doctor whose treatment had worked faster than even he had expected.
The Belgian who has appeared older than his 71 years in recent times, is looking forward to freedom from the shackles of style which sports leadership in the modern media world imposes on its prisoners.
“It will be an emotion not to be in charge of the International Olympic Committee but I’m going without any nostalgia,” said Rogge.
“I’m not looking at the past; I’m looking at my future life going forward. I will continue to be associated as an honorary member and I will be attending Olympic Games and events so it’s not farewell, and it’s not adios, as they say in Spanish.
“I did my duty. I did what I had to do. If it has benefited the International Olympic Committee, I’m happy, but don’t look at me as a miracle doctor . . . Have I enjoyed it? Not always. Was it exciting? Definitely.”
Not that he ever dared let slip any such suggestion until now.
His worse moment was the death of the Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili at the Vancouver Winter Games in 2010. At a far less important level the one irritant of the role was a lack of sleep from the weight of responsibility and busy travel schedule.
The one-time rugby international also had to tackle a need for a guarded self-awareness, keeping his personal thoughts to himself and remaining outwardly restrained and diplomatic – “not having to do that will be a big part of my joy.”
In this, for the media, he was entirely and frustratingly, excessively successful. The modern media model, like it or not, demands outreach and – in particular – if the Olympic family wants to make an impact at grassroots level rather than within its own private circles on the exclusive pinnacles of Olympus.
Rogge would not, of course, be drawn on the candidates for the three elections coming up over the next five days (“With the cities there are three very good bids and and any one of them would stage very good Games”).
He was satisfied that his mission to put athletes at the centre of the Olympic Games had been fulfilled, stating the moments which plesed him the most was that he could declare “very good Games” at the close of six Olympic and two Youth Olympics.
To that extent, he did not view the task ahead of the next president as anything more onerous than the one he took on in Moscow in 2001.
“I think it will be the same challenges that [Juan Antonio] Samaranch had, that I had and that my successor will have,” said Rogge. “It’s not easy to organize good Games. I think that the challenges will not differ very much.”
One such challenge is always justifying the vast cost in money and time and disruption imposed on a host city (and country) in bringing the Olympic circus to town. If he hinted at an objective he might not quite have managed it was justification.
The Games, he insisted, should be perceived as “a win-win situation” but that meant “indicating and proving that there is a good legacy after staging such events.”
He drew satisfaction – ‘pride’ would not be his way – from the progress effected in the fight against doping. This was “far more difficult today was 10 years ago.” The Olympic sailor from Gent also believed that he had steered a diplomatic political course on the ocean of clashing cultures and customs which the IOC sails.
“We have clearly on various occasions expressed our view on situations and countries,” he said, “but we are restricted. We are staging the Games in a sovereign state, and the IOC cannot be expected to have an effect on the sovereign affairs of a country.”
Those comments were about as close as Rogge went to delivering a view on the storm cloud which hands over next year’s Sochi Winter Games concerning Russia’s anti-gay legislation.
Apart from that, Rogge reported scantily on the latest updates that the IOC was optmisticc for Sochi 2014, confident that Rio 2016 knew what had to be done and that PyeongChang 2018 was “no problem.”
In all, just one more business-as-usual day in the life of Jacques Rogge, Olympic president but not for much longer.
Keir Radnedge has been covering football worldwide for more than 40 years, writing 33 books, from tournament guides to comprehensive encyclopedias, aimed at all ages.
His journalism career included The Daily Mail for 20 years as well as The Guardian and other national newspapers and magazines in the UK and around the world. He is a former editor, and remains a lead columnist, with World Soccer, generally recognised as the premier English language magazine on global football.
In addition to his writing, Keir has been a regular analyst for BBC radio and television, Sky Sports, Sky News, Aljazeera and CNN.
Keir Radnedge’s Twitter: @KeirRadnedge