BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - You can define Jacques Rogge’s 12 years as International Olympic Committee president simply by the numbers, which befits a man whose public personality is as serious and dispassionate as a balance sheet.
Bottom line: The IOC’s reserves have increased from $105 million to $901 million.
Given that Rogge took over from Juan Antonio Samaranch when the IOC still was shaken by its bid city corruption scandal and soon to face the challenges of a 2002 Winter Olympics in scandal epicenter Salt Lake City after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, those improved financial circumstances are an impressive accounting of Rogge’s presidential tenure.
As the 71-year-old Belgian steps down Tuesday as both IOC president, in which he had reached the term limit, and an IOC member, a position he could have kept 10 more years, the rest of his legacy is more complicated.
“In his initial years, he very quickly returned the prestige of the IOC,” said Ser Miang Ng of Singapore, one of six candidates to succeed Rogge. “He was a steady pair of hands working on building the Olympic movement in a very quiet and unassuming way.”
Yet Rogge chose a hands-off approach to the human rights issues that surrounded the 2008 Beijing Summer Games and now have caused problems for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, leaving the IOC open to criticism it does not stand behind the ideals expressed in the OIympic Charter.
Olympic historian David Wallechinsky of Los Angeles said there was “no excuse” for Rogge’s silence when China broke promises about right to protest and free flow of information at the Olympics.
“I feel he should have spoken up (on Sochi) just using his bully pulpit,” Wallechinsky said. “You’re on the way out; you can say whatever you want.”
The five Olympic Games under Rogge’s watch all were thoroughly successful in organizational and competitive terms, notwithstanding the kerfuffle over the pairs skating result at Salt Lake City. That includes an Athens 2004 Summer Games that seemed headed for an organizational disaster.
Two Olympics awarded during Rogge’s tenure, Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016, both pose substantial challenges for his successor. Sochi has spent a stunning $40 billion on its event and now faces controversy over Russia’s anti-gay legislation.
Rogge, one of the eight white males (seven Europeans) who have been IOC president, will be remembered for bringing the first Olympics to South America, but preparations are going so slowly that Rio could turn into a fiasco. He spurred the creation of the Youth Olympic Games, an effort to get young people more invested in physical activity and education, but it remains to be seen whether they will do more than leech money from the IOC reserves.
Rogge repeatedly rejected the idea of a London 2012 opening ceremony moment honoring the memory of the 11 Israelis massacred 30 years earlier at the Munich Olympics. Six months earlier, the IOC had a memorial for Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili at the 2010 Winter Olympic opening ceremony, which was the same day Kumaritashvili had died in a training crash.
Rogge pushed hard behind the scenes – and succeeded at the London Games – for having women on every Olympic team. Even if that was a token gesture by the three holdout nations, Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Qatar, it was a small step forward.
Yet he would not take on the issue of painfully small opportunities for women athletes in those countries.
Some feel U.S. critics of Rogge’s – and the IOC’s – silence on human rights issues should look at their own glass house.
“You have in the U.S. the death penalty, Guantanamo, spying (on) the world through Internet,” said IOC member Denis Oswald of Switzerland, among the presidential candidates. “You can find something in every country.”
Rogge answers much of the criticism by saying the IOC cannot interfere in the affairs of a sovereign nation.
Long known as the “Mister Clean” of Olympic circles, Rogge has taken strong positions on the issues of sports betting, which has led to match fixing in soccer; and on doping, even while acknowledging it is impossible to wipe out use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Former World Anti-Doping Agency president Dick Pound of Canada, who lost to Rogge in the 2001 presidential election, wrote a report last May that excoriated the IOC, WADA and international federations for lacking the “general appetite to undertake the effort and expense of a successful effort to deliver doping-free sport."
Sunday, Pound criticized the IOC for winding up back at square one in its efforts, spearheaded by Rogge, to modernize the Summer Games sports program. Rogge’s insistence on sticking to the idea of 25 “core” Summer Games sports has made change more difficult.
U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Larry Probst, set to be named an IOC member Tuesday, worked with Rogge to resolve the festering revenue-sharing disagreement between the USOC and IOC.
“I have an incredibly high level of respect for him,” Probst said of Rogge. “It is an unbelievably tough job, with constant travel.’
Rogge, an Olympic sailor and former orthopedic surgeon, joked at a press conference last week that his biggest failure as president was not getting enough sleep, but the job clearly has worn on him. He had hip replacement surgery last September and looked drawn while presiding over his final IOC general meeting the past three days.
“I am going without any nostalgia,” Rogge said.
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