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Game for a Challenge in a Changing World


Jacques Rogge, an orthopedic surgeon from Belgium, was elected president of the International Olympic Committee in July 2001, succeeding Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain. Two months later, the terrorist attacks on the United States put increased security pressures on the February 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games. The Games were an organizational and financial success but were marked by judging controversies in figure skating and other sports. On July 31, purported Russian mobster Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov was arrested in Italy on U.S. charges alleging a conspiracy to fix the Salt Lake pairs and ice dancing results.

As the legal process grinds along, the IOC focus now also includes the 2004 Summer Games in Athens; a recommendation to drop baseball, softball and modern pentathlon from the Olympic program as of 2008; and the developing races among cities worldwide wanting to stage the 2010 Winter Games or 2012 Summer Olympics.

Rogge spoke from his office at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Question: What is the IOC's No. 1 priority?

Answer: The IOC's No. 1 priority, sport's No. 1 priority, is the credibility of sports against threats by doping, threats by corruption and threats by violence both on and off the pitch.

Q: How seriously ought those who care about the Olympic movement be worried about the U.S. criminal case alleging a fix in the skating competition at the Salt Lake Games?

A: This is something we take very seriously. Unfortunately, we still are not in possession of the full file. The [U.S.] Justice Department has withheld its information.... As long as we don't have the full record of the tapes of Mr. Tokhtakhounov and of the events, we have to wait for a trial.

Q: How does the organizational success of the Salt Lake Games bear on U.S. chances for the 2012 Olympics, and how--at this moment--do you rate those chances?

A: I don't think that Salt Lake would have changed the perception we have of the United States, which is one of a very sophisticated, well-organized country. We know that you can organize good Games. The Atlanta situation [site of the 1996 Summer Games] has not altered our perception; Atlanta was an exception and normally you would organize very good Games. Salt Lake just confirmed that.

What are your chances? If I'm well informed, it's boiling down now to New York and San Francisco. Both cities have what it takes to organize perfect Games. They're both good cities in a politically stable, very sophisticated country, which used to have a good economy. But the problem of the economy is the whole world's.... The competition will not be easy because Germany will have the same conditions; Spain will have the same conditions; probably Paris will be bidding. I could go on with big cities like Moscow; they could provide very good Games. It's going to be an interesting fight.

Q: What is the impact of 9/11 on New York's bid? A year ago, when the mayor of Rome suggested that all other cities bow out should New York become the U.S. candidate, you had said the gesture was premature. Now?

A: If New York is going to win the Games, it should win on the merits, in an open and fair competition. We should not give to New York a consolation prize. We should give to New York the prize of being the best city of all cities in world. That's something New York should be more proud of than if everybody withdraws for--I would say--legitimate emotional reasons. I think everybody wants to pay tribute to the victims and the heroes of Ground Zero....

But if New York wants the Games, it has to deserve it.... I'm quite sure New Yorkers would not want it to be different.

Q: An IOC committee has recommended baseball, softball and modern pentathlon be dropped from the Olympic program. Were you surprised by the reaction and what are your expectations for the IOC session in Mexico City in November, where that proposal is on the agenda?

A: I'm absolutely not surprised by the reaction; no one who is on that list would be happy. I put it in a little bit of perspective. The IOC has only added events and sports and disciplines since 1948. The last time we deleted sports was in 1936 in Berlin, with polo. Now we've added sports. We were 17 sports [in 1948] in London, 28 today; we were 140 events, compared to 300 today; there were something around 5,000 athletes compared to 10,500. Now most of these additions--I will even say 99%--are perfectly legitimate because new sports came up, because sports became more popular, because women's sports emerged, because television came and there was more money....

We would like to finalize everything by [the IOC session in] Prague next year. Will that lead to revolution? I don't think so. Will that lead to changes? I think so. This is the first time since 1948--54 years--that the IOC will have examined critically its own program, and I think it's time to do that.

Q: What is your confidence level as regards preparations for Athens, and how will those Games be different from the 2000 Sydney Olympics?

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