His vision: down-to-earth Olympics

Faster, higher, and - smaller.

That could be the motto of the man picked to lead the International Olympic Committee (IOC) through the early years of the 21st century.

A Belgian orthopedic surgeon with a mastery of five languages, Jacques Rogge is considered a squeaky clean choice to succeed Juan Antonio Samaranch, a decision announced yesterday in Moscow.

But whereas Mr. Samaranch was considered "regal" in his management style, colleagues describe Dr. Rogge - a former world champion yachtsman - as "charming" and likely to bring the Olympic movement closer to the athletes.

"He's a prince of a guy, stable," says Paul Henderson, an IOC member who sailed against Rogge in the '68 Olympics. "He'll keep things on track."

Fitting tribute, for a man whose favorite book is said to be "The Little Prince." Rogge, an IOC member for only 10 years, also has a reputation for crisis management. He has been key in steering Athens back on track after a disastrous start to preparations for the 2004 Games. But that experience has led Rogge to campaign to downsize the Olympics, arguing that they have become so massive and costly that only the wealthiest cities and countries are capable of staging them.

After representing Belgium as a yachtsman for three successive Olympics in the 1960's and '70's, Rogge moved to sports politics and was chef de mission at two winter and three summer Games. He was considered Samaranch's personal choice as successor, and the 122-member IOC elected him by a more than two-to-one margin in a second-round vote.

On Friday, the IOC granted another of Samaranch's departing wishes, overwhelmingly selecting Beijing to host the 2008 Olympics over competitors such as Toronto and Paris. In doing so, it brushed aside protests over China's abysmal human rights record and worries about Beijing's lack of physical preparedness.

A risky choice, experts warn. "The IOC took a political stand in deciding for Beijing," says Jim Christie, Olympic expert with the Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper. The benefits include tighter integration of China with the world and an implicit Chinese promise of good behavior - at least until 2008 - vis a vis Taiwan. On the other hand, China has made no pledges to internally democratize or clean up its human rights act, and this could rebound on the IOC. "The world will be watching China more closely now," says Mr. Christie. "As the 2008 Games approach, there could be boycott pressures and other political embarrassments for the IOC."

"Jacques Rogge steps to what may well be the most powerful job in world sports at a crossroads in Olympic history," says Jens Bang, president and chief operating officer of Cone LLC, a strategic public relations and marketing firm based in Boston and Washington. "The IOC's goals include separating politics from sport, yet the selection of Beijing for 2008 means the two will inevitably be intertwined for years to come.

"The good news is that Rogge brings ethical credibility, sports savvy, and organizational skills to his new post," says Mr. Bang. "It will be critical for the IOC to bend over backward to conduct its business in the open.... This most especially includes negotiations and preparations surrounding the Beijing games.

The IOC remains one of the most closed and undemocratic of international organizations. Its 100-plus delegates are chosen from national Olympic committees and sports federations by a labyrinthine process and, once on the IOC, delegates are almost totally unaccountable.

Under Samaranch's 21-year leadership, the IOC was compelled to initiate reforms after a welter of revelations about performance-enhancing drug use by Olympic athletes and rampant influence-peddling by IOC delegates in the run-up to Salt Lake City, Utah's successful bid for the 2002 Winter Games.

The man Samaranch sent out to implement tougher rules was IOC vice president Dick Pound, a Canadian lawyer. He cracked down hard on drug-taking by athletes and brought in a tough anticorruption regime - including a ban on IOC delegates making visits to, or receiving gifts from Olympic Game bid cities. In what is widely seen as a backlash, Mr. Pound earned just 22 of the 110 votes cast yesterday for IOC president.

Delegates also rebuffed South Korean diplomat Un Yong Kim, who had promised to slow reforms, pay IOC members a "stipend" of $50,000 annually, and restore the right of IOC delegates to be hosted by bid cities. He came in second, with 23 votes. "Kim was the candidate of the conservative old guard, and he was soundly defeated," says Christie. "But the winner, Rogge, was the next most-conservative candidate on offer. He wants to move forward, but slowly and carefully."

In his first remarks as president, Rogge said his priorities will be to curtail doping, corruption, and violence in the Olympic movement. But in an interview last week with a Russian newspaper, Sport Express, he promised his style would be "evolution, not revolution."

Rogge deplored the "giantism" of the Olympic games and warned that he will seek to reduce their scale as well as the growing number of events on Olympic programs. "The games have reached the limits of what an organizing committee can deliver," he told Sport Express. "We have to consider if we should reduce the program, the venue capacity, the growing dependence on and cost of technology and the number of press accreditations."

Rogge is expected to pursue a middle road on key challenges during his term as president, which can last no more than 12 years under new limits. On corruption, he has hinted he might restore controversial IOC visits to bid cities, but under close supervision. On doping and the looming issue of genetic engineering, he may make concessions to the desire of athletes to push the envelope of physical performance, says Rudolf Nezvetsky, deputy chair of the Russian Olympic Committee. "Rogge represents the camp of compromise," he says. "But everyone understands, in the final analysis, that the Olympics must remain remain a competition of human beings, not biochemical robots."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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