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Daily Telegraph

JUST before I went to Lausanne to interview Jacques Rogge, a high ranking British politician told me that the only thing that could stop a London victory in next month’s vote for the 2012 Olympics was if the International Olympic Committee had done a secret deal on Paris.

Rogge, 63, the IOC president and a former Olympic yachtsman, was born in Belgium and speaks French. So not long, after I was ushered into his office in the villa adjoining the IOC headquarters, I asked him if there was any truth to the rumour that he secretly favoured Paris.

Rogge laughed as if to suggest the idea was outrageous, then for the first time his face grew stern and his voice grave: “This is absolutely rubbish,” he said. “I can’t stop people saying things but I challenge anyone to come up with facts to substantiate that I have given advice to anyone to vote for Paris. Absolutely not.

“I challenge every person that says that to come up with a conversation or discussion where I have said I favour Paris. People who know me, know I never intervene in elections. Never lobby for a candidate or a candidate city. Absolutely not. No. I cannot help that I speak French. I have not been more to Paris than to other bid cities, I have not been to Paris for a year, I was in London last week for the BOA [British Olympic Association] anniversary.”

If anything, Rogge could claim to be so much an Anglophile that he must be the first IOC president to know the rules of cricket and say with conviction: “I feel sorry Bradman’s last innings ended in a duck.” Indeed for the Sydney Games, where Rogge was in charge, the Australians considered asking Bradman to light the flame but he was too fragile.

“Cricket,” Rogge said, “is a fascinating game. What statistics. I discovered cricket when I was a young boy. My parents would send me every summer on holiday to Bute in Cornwall, where they had very good friends. I watch a lot of cricket on television. I put it on while I am working, writing or reading as background and every 10 minutes, when there is a roar and something is happening, you watch a replay.”

When a wicket falls Rogge loves to study the umpire. “Fascinating. They look like a sphinx. Some of them wait three or four seconds before they raise their finger,” he said, raising a finger in a style that Dickie Bird would have approved. But has Rogge been too quick to raise his finger and rule out attempts by cities to publicise their bids as he did two months ago when London had to withdraw various sweeteners it was offering the Olympic family?

“It would have been wise for London to inform us,” Rogge said, “and things would have been easily solved. Sebastian Coe [London’s bid leader] did the right thing and he withdrew the proposals.”

Rogge then spoke of a secret list of things cities wanted to do but which the IOC had clamped down on as they were “against the spirit of the rules”.

The race for 2012 is very tight and Rogge believes the difference in the final round next month could be a handful of votes.

But while he will not vote in Singapore or comment on the candidates, he provides a wonderful insight into how fellow IOC members have chosen cities in the past.

“I think there is no better example than Beijing,” Rogge said of the city chosen to stage the 2008 Olympics in a vote in Moscow in July 2001. “If you look quality- wise, there was no big difference between Beijing, Toronto and Paris. All three could have had perfect Games. But there was the will of the IOC to go to the biggest country of the world, one fifth of mankind.”

The same, Rogge says, was true when the IOC chose Athens for 2004 instead of Rome. Both, he said, had equally good bids but “Athens got it because of the added value of coming back to the country of origin.

You also had this situation when Sydney won the Games for 2000. Look at the two bids, Sydney and Beijing. Both bids were excellent, but the vote came in 1993 immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union the year before with all the turmoil this caused. There was this fear in the IOC; would not this be contagious for China. What is going to happen? We were wrong in our fears.”

Rogge’s greatest satisfaction from the 2012 race is that the media no longer criticise the IOC for making the bidding a junket. “For 15 years we have constantly been attacked, and not without reason, by the media. Nowadays, if you look at the media, there have been no criticisms. It proves we are on the right track.”

Yet there are those in the Olympic movement who feel that Rogge, the chosen successor of Juan Antonio Samaranch, has not kept the movement on the right track and made too many changes too fast. So is this because Samaranch left him a lousy inheritance?

“No,” said Rogge. “It was a very good inheritance. Samaranch did a fantastic job in a growth era. But times have changed. I am responsible for running this house in a non-growth era. When I took over in 2001 we were in a deep economic crisis which affected most of the sponsorship.

“We had 9/11 that led to increased security measures but also uncertainty about the Games. We had the SARS [health] crisis that stopped all international sports contact for about four months. I needed to consolidate and that is what I have been doing.”

At Lausanne this has meant cutting costs and wholesale changes resulting in a reserve which was only $98 million (£54 million) and which would have lasted only 18 months now at $246 million (£136 million). So even if a Games were cancelled, the IOC would survive.

More controversially Rogge has proposed that members vote on which of the 28 sports presently in the Olympic Games should be dropped to make way for rugby sevens, golf, karate and squash. This has caused much angst and even allies of Rogge, like fellow IOC member Dennis Oswald, have ridiculed rugby sevens.

Rogge said: “We do not want to reduce the programme — 28 is perfect. What I wanted to do is give IOC members a tool that they can use after each Games. They did not have the tool before. They have it now. If they decide to keep 28 sports, that is fine. But in four years or eight years they will review it. Logic says sooner or later there will be changes. It is emotional. I understand the emotion. I think if you speak to the federations individually they understand, but as a group they have to defend themselves, and I respect that.”

Rogge is convinced that, unlike in the Nineties, when the IOC added sports at every Olympics, there is no longer the money to sustain that expansion.

So is the IOC president too like the surgeon he is, always ready with his knife? “Surgery teaches you how to make difficult decisions,” Rogge answered. “This is not a job where if you have a problem you can say I shall see you tomorrow or the day after. You can’t postpone problems in surgery. I believe in an organisation there are things you cannot stop and things you cannot postpone. Sometimes you have to amputate, but if you can save the limb, you save it. That is what I am doing. You cannot adopt the ostrich attitude and put your head in the sands. There are issues we have to tackle.”

Rogge knows he faces many other testing problems, not least questions on human rights when Beijing hosts the Games in 2008. “We have been in contact with Amnesty International and other human rights and NGOs [non-governmental organisations]. And we will continue to support the call for human rights. But we agreed that it was not our job to monitor human rights. We are not equipped for that. To monitor human rights you need specialists in all categories of society.

“We are also saying if you want to see what is the influence of the Olympic Games, judge us at Games time. Do no judge three years before. I believe the Games will improve the situation of the human rights and the Chinese acknowledge that, too. And they say that this will be positive evolution of their society.”

© Mihir Bose

      

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