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Belgian Wins Olympic Presidency

Sports: Ex-sailor, dubbed Mr. Clean, vows to reach out to U.S. But the election results bring controversy.

July 17, 2001|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — The most powerful position in world sports remained in European hands Monday as former Olympic sailor Jacques Rogge, a Belgian physician with a reputation for integrity, was elected president in the International Olympic Committee's first contested election in 21 years.

Rogge, who replaces retiring Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain, was elected by an emphatic margin, receiving 59 of 110 votes cast. The results of the secret ballot immediately unleashed controversy, with one of the four challengers bowing out of ceremonies that followed and Anita DeFrantz of Los Angeles, the only U.S. candidate, accusing IOC members of rejecting her because, she said, "I'm an American woman."

But Samaranch led many others, including U.S. Olympic leaders and key Olympic corporate partners, in welcoming the new president: "He is the best president for the IOC at this moment," Samaranch said. "The message is that we got a heavyweight."

"We admire his presence, his skills," U.S. Olympic Committee President Sandra Baldwin said. "He understands the Olympic movement. And with Jacques Rogge, we'll work together to strike a balance on what he considers important from the European perspective and what we consider important to the Olympic movement from our perspective."

Known to Olympic insiders for his measured calm and diplomatic nature, Rogge, 59, quickly moved to strike a new chord in an organization that has been rocked in recent years by a scandal and revelations of lavish spending. "My job is to unite," he declared shortly after his election.

Though Rogge's presidency continues the European domination of the IOC, he made a point Monday of reaching out to the United States, which supplies most of the movement's financial support and has been a regular host of the Games over the last 20 years. The U.S. "must play a very great role" on the Olympic scene, Rogge said.

During his campaign for the eight-year term, Rogge called for a reduction in the size and scope of the Games, saying they are so big that only the wealthiest cities can afford them, and described the use of illicit performance-enhancing substances by athletes as the "greatest threat to the credibility of sport."

Asked Monday about the direction of the IOC and the Olympic movement, he replied, "I want to listen. Having listened, I will come up with policies."

With the Winter Games set to begin in February in Salt Lake City, Rogge said he has much work to do, including finding a place to stay. While most IOC leaders enjoy first-class hotel accommodations during the Games, Rogge said he intends to stay with the athletes in the Olympic Village--which would be a first. It's a "wonderful gesture," Salt Lake Olympic Committee President Mitt Romney said.

One thing already is certain--the Summer Games of 2004, awarded to Athens, will be held in Athens. Serious talk circulated last year that the 2004 Olympics might have to be moved elsewhere, perhaps Seoul or Los Angeles, as preparations for those Games have been plagued by delays.

Rogge, the IOC's point man in dealing with Athens, has long made it clear that moving the Games elsewhere is not an option.

The election in Moscow marked the formal end to 21 years--to the day--of Samaranch's reign.

Samaranch Led IOC Through Ups, Downs

During his tenure, the Olympic movement became a billion-dollar business and sports enterprise, with its symbol--the five interlocking rings--recognized the world over. The Samaranch legacy will forever be clouded, though, by the Salt Lake City corruption scandal, which erupted in late 1998 and led to the resignation or expulsion of 10 members as well as a 50-point reform plan.

Samaranch's influence, however, will be felt for years. Samaranch, who turns 81 today and had long decided to step down this year, personally saw to that as he spent his last few days in office engineering five key plays during the IOC's meeting in Moscow:

* Beijing, his choice, was elected to play host to the 2008 Summer Games, a historic move that takes the Games for the first time to the world's most populous country.

* Samaranch's son, Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., was elected an IOC member.

* The IOC agreed to help maintain offices for Samaranch in Lausanne, Switzerland, the committee's home base, as well as in his hometown, Barcelona, and to pay for certain expenses.

* The IOC also agreed to give Samaranch the right to attend the board's meetings and to speak at them but not to vote--in essence, precisely what he has been doing for years, though he won't now formally be running the meetings. Samaranch insisted that as former president, he would "not be a shadow of the president."

* Finally, Rogge became the IOC president, its eighth. Samaranch was publicly neutral during the campaign, but he made no secret after the election was over that he believes Rogge is the appropriate heir.

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