Why Jacques Rogge Wants to Run the Olympics

The Belgian IOC presidential candidate, who led Sydney's successful games, wants transparency and accountability

He's fluent in five languages -- and very much the diplomat in all of them. A practicing orthopedic surgeon, he's also a former champion yachtsman. Just add organizer of the successful 2000 Sydney Olympics to Jacques Rogge's resume, and he's now out to win what's arguably the most important executive position in world sport.

On Mar. 26, the 58-year-old Belgian announced his candidacy to become the next president of the International Olympic Committee, replacing controversial Spaniard Juan Antonio Samaranch. Explaining his platform, Rogge told BusinessWeek Online: "We need to follow strict rules of transparency and accountability."


  The 127 IOC members will elect a president on July 16 in Moscow. Whoever wins, he or she will face a great challenge restoring confidence in an institution battered by corruption charges over Salt Lake City's bid to host the 2002 Winter Games. The field will be crowded, with several other candidates already having come forward. But the two main contenders are expected to be Rogge and Canadian Richard Pound, a lawyer who launched the Games' corporate-sponsorship program and negotiated juicy TV deals.

Thanks in part to Pound's work, the Games are as much about giant sums of money as athletic excellence. The American television networks bid hundreds of millions of dollars to show the Games, and corporate giants such as Coca-Cola pay up to $50 million each to be associated with them. All told, the modern Olympic Games generate $1 billion a year -- a reason why Rogge advocates modern corporate governance. "We must be responsible," he says.

But Rogge believes that the Olympics should keep a healthy distance from business interests. He opposes advertising and corporate logos at the Games themselves. He also has weaker ties to the networks and sponsors than Pound -- which supporters believe could could be an advantage.


  While Pound has been a successful fund-raiser for the Olympics, Rogge has made his name as a peerless organizer. He was the president of the Sydney Games' coordinating committee and is the head of the coordinating committee for the 2004 Athens Games. As a candidate, Rogge will likely emphasize his political independence. In 1980, when he was president of the Belgian Olympic Committee, Rogge decided -- against his government's wishes -- that his country should compete in the controversial Moscow Summer Games despite a U.S. boycott in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. That independence surfaced again in 1989, when Rogge became head of the European IOC because both East and West Europe supported him as a compromise candidate.

His linguistic abilities -- he speaks flawless Dutch, French, English, German, and Spanish -- and his roots in a small country with few enemies should help his candidacy as well. "I come from a multicultural society, and the Olympics is a multicultural movement," he explains. He also insists: "We can't just make the Games a playground for the rich," a stance that will probably play well in getting African and South American votes.

Rogge also built a reputation for efficient administration overseeing the Sydney Games -- and he's pushing Greece hard to get ready for the 2004 event. There are concerns about construction delays, and more important, security. He's confident that everything is well under control. "The worst problem we could have are terrible traffic jams," he predicts.


  The trickiest party of Rogge's candidacy will be positioning himself against the current president, 80-year-old Samaranch. Before taking over the IOC in 1980, the controversial Spaniard spent more than three decades as a faithful supporter of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, rising to head Catalonia's regional government. At the IOC, he persuaded the Swiss government to award the nonprofit extraterritorial powers, letting it avoid publishing detailed financial figures, for example. He handpicked the majority of the IOC members, most of whom were named for life.

Rogge praises Samaranch for taking the Games from near bankruptcy to financial stability. He supports Samaranch's elimination of rules barring professionals from competing. But Rogge admits that the IOC's executive board, which he joined in 1998, "turned a blind eye" to the kind of fat-cat tours to Salt Lake City and other potential host cities that got the IOC into hot water.

Since the Salt Lake scandal broke in December, 1998, the IOC has hired PricewaterhouseCoopers to put out detailed financial statements. Gifts and most member visits have been banned as part of the host-city selection process. A reform committee has been organized that includes such luminaries as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and former Major League Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth.


  Their proposals for enforcing eight-year term limits for IOC members, retirement ages of 70, and including 15 active athletes on the IOC's governing board have all been approved. "We've gone through a revolution, and my [mission] will not be a new revolution but to consolidate the changes," Rogge says.

That's not enough for critics. The reforms will take a long time to effect a thorough overhaul. Present IOC members aren't subject to age limits, meaning the present crew can stay on until at least 2008. During that time, the IOC president and a small selection committee will still nominate candidates. "Rogge is always available to show his perfect white teeth, but he was silent about reforms in the past," complains Andrew Jennings, one of the IOC's most persistent critics and author of the recent book The Great Olympic Swindle.

If he wins, Rogge will be a smoother, more articulate, and much more telegenic IOC head than the brusque, ham-fisted Samaranch. But even if he proves to be as devoted, talented, and impartial as his resume suggests, Rogge won't be able to clean up the Olympic mess alone. The IOC is a powerful institution that has made the first steps toward change. But it still has a long way to go in carrying the torch for reform.

By William Echikson in Brussels

Edited by Patricia O'Connell

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