Despite the praise lavished on him by sports executives throughout the world, Dr. Jacques Rogge's election as the new president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) does not necessarily herald the dawn of a revolution.
Granted, the 59-year-old Belgian has a reputation as "Mr. Clean" and it is possible that unlike other IOC members he deserves it. However, Rogge belongs to the "old guard" that exerted absolute control over the IOC under the leadership of the outgoing Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain.
Over the past two decades, Samaranch and his loyalists have led the IOC to impressive economic achievements. The Olympic games have become the world's most popular television spectacle. However, during in this same period, the IOC, which conducts its affairs without any appropriate public monitoring, has also become one of the world's most corrupt international organizations.
Bribes, expensive gifts, luxury hotels, call girls, and fancy restaurants have become almost an integral part of the lifestyles of some IOC members. No wonder the IOC has become known as the world's most exclusive private members club. Some of the more than 100 members of the IOC have been very unhappy with the way Samaranch has run the show.
Many felt revulsion over his unsavory past as a dedicated supporter, up to the very last moment, of Spain's fascist dictator Francisco Franco. Unfortunately, most of these closet critics never expressed their views in public. The fabulous revenues, primarily from advertising, sponsorships and franchising of television broadcasts, silenced the tongues of critics. Rogge was one of those "willing slaves" who faithfully served the president, although behind closed doors, he opened up with mild criticism of Samaranch.
In public Rogge stood by him with total loyalty. In recent years, there has been a steady increase in public criticism of corruption in the IOC, of the economic gap between the poor nations of the southern hemisphere and the affluent nations of the northern hemisphere, and of the disappearence of the true spirit of sport in the face of the ever-growing commercialization of the Olympic games.
Because of this the IOC began to understand the need for change in its structure and management. The IOC has recruited well-known athletes such as Ukraine's Sergei Bubka, who holds the world's record in pole-vaulting, and Norwegian speed-skater Johann Olav Koss.
The IOC also decided to invest funds in programs designed to develop young athletes in Third World countries. Another important IOC decision has been the selection of Beijing as the host city for the 2008 Olympics.
Rogge has promised to continue this trend but has also emphasized that he will carry on the tradition set by Samaranch. Hopefully, this second promise was merely lip service to his predecessor and that, once he has consolidated his presidency, he will abandon the Samaranch "tradition" and will introduce more radical changes. These should include installing a greater number of active athletes as IOC members and reducing the presence of the "sports politicians" presently sitting on that committee; increased decentralization; funds to help needy athletes; the promotion of "popular" grassroots sports activities; eradication of drugs. Most of all, there should be a restoration of the sense of joy that the Olympic games once radiated.
If he has sufficient determination, he will be to achieve such goals. Rogge has the qualifications and the capacity for making some dramatic changes in the IOC. An orthopedic surgeon by profession, he is a former Olympian, having participated in three Olympic competitions - in Mexico, Munich and Montreal - competing in the Finn class in sailing and twice becoming world champion.
His professional skills as a member of the IOC have expressed themselves in the war against drugs and he has sat on the executive committee of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). The battle to eradicate drugs from sport has in recent years scored a number of impressive victories. However, Rogge will have to put a much more strenuous effort into that and will have to display much greater determination to put an end to this serious blemish on the Olympic games than he has shown so far.
Despite the doubts and question marks raised by his election, Rogge is - from Israel's standpoint - a wonderful choice as IOC president. He is considered a friend of Israel. His wife was once a volunteer on a kibbutz and still remembers with fondness her pleasant and sometimes exciting experiences in Israel.
Rogge has always supported Israel's participation in international sporting events. When Israel battled attempts to ban it from the world athletic arena, Rogge rushed to Israel's aid. When Israel was banished from the Asiatic bloc in the wake of the Yom Kippur War, he supported its inclusion in the European bloc.
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