Evening Standard

Taking a stand: Jacques Rogge says the IOC only tackled corruption within their organisation after they faced up to the fact that they had a problem. Image courtesy of Evening Standard

Next July, as Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, opens the London Games, he will have one eye firmly on the cricket.

The Olympics have only had one cricket match, Great Britain beating France in the 1900 Paris Games, but for Rogge, the leader of world sport, this is still the greatest of games.

We are in his offices in Lausanne and he is telling me how he combines his love of cricket with work. “Whenever I can, I catch up with some cricket.

“When I’m at my office, whether it be at home or here in Lausanne, I put the telly on and I have a Test match or a one-day match on. I continue to work and once in a while I hear a big roar and I know something has happened, an lbw or a run out, and I watch the replay.”

The love developed, reveals the 69-year-old, when he went to stay with relatives in Cornwall.

“I was 12 or 13,” he says. “It was on the lawn of their house. They showed me the stumps and gave me a bat. It was not a proper pitch but it gave you the feel for the game.”

And with an irony that does not escape the Belgian, he says: “Yes, they introduced me to French cricket but I didn’t know it was called French cricket. Let’s be very clear, I can’t play cricket, but I know the rules. I love the game. I have watched Sachin Tendulkar, Kevin Pietersen, Shane Warne, Ian Botham. It’s tactically very interesting, a game of patience, a game of great skills and the only sport where, after five days, you can have a draw!”

As we speak, he calls over his secretary to check the latest status in the process of cricket becoming an Olympic sport and then says: “The International Cricket Council will decide at the end of June whether they will make an application. The incoming president might be interested. We would welcome an application. It’s an important, popular sport and very powerful on television. It’s a sport with a great tradition where mostly you have a respect of the ethics. In the Olympics, it will not be Test cricket, of course.”

Not surprising this Anglophile, who will step down a year after London, sees 2012 as being historic.

“London will be the first city to host the Games for the third time. I expect to see 2012 reflect the image and identity of the country that invented modern sport. You introduced it into your educational system, had great champions, great competitions, staged major events and the Games will also reflect the British public’s enormous knowledge of sport.”

The former Belgium rugby union player adds: “Like the crowd at Twickenham not whistling when there is a penalty. In other stadiums you hear boos but not in England.”

All this is a wonderful balm for this country after the humiliation English football suffered at last week’s FIFA Congress. But Rogge does have his fears for London 2012, namely that illegal bookmakers will target the Games.

“We had monitoring in Vancouver and in Beijing and there was no sign of illegal betting in either those Games. But it would be naive to say this could not happen at the London Olympics. Of course, I am worried it could happen. We have to be ready.”

For Rogge illegal gambling is now a greater scourge for world sport than doping. He says: “It’s even worse. Imagine a team sport with one player being doped; that one player will not make the difference to the result.

“But if you have match rigging with the goalkeeper being paid off and jumping over the ball, it’s the whole match that is lost. So the scale is far more important in terms of match manipulation.”

Cricket, the sport Rogge loves so much, has been at the centre of some of sport’s biggest betting scandals, raging from the Hansie Cronje affair to the spot-fixing which saw Pakistan trio Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir banned. Last week, Italian police arrested 16 people over match-fixing claims relating chiefly to football games in Serie B and C.

In a week’s time, Rogge will preside over a conference on betting in sport. It will bring together various sports bodies, Interpol and ministers from 15 nations including our own sports minister, Hugh Robertson.

He says: “We are looking at a system whereby governments will legislate in controlling and defending sport. We also want governments to exchange information with us and Interpol.

“The illegal betting networks, contrary to doping, are very international. You can bet from the far end of one continent on a match played at the far end of another continent. Doping is far more restricted to one competition and to a small area.

“We’ve been told by Interpol that the criminal gangs involved with illegal gambling are the same gangs who deal with drugs and prostitution. So it’s not a couple of guys wanting to make a few quick bucks out of fixing a match.”

Rogge believes the problem is made worse by two factors.

He says: “People don’t bet any more on the result but on the facts of a match, like bowling no-balls, who is going to concede the first corner in a football match, or who is going to make the second double fault in tennis; events that are not suspicious when you see them in isolation.

“The second thing is that illegal betting targets lower level sport, not the very top because there you have cameras and a lot of monitoring and scrutiny.”

There has been talk of setting up an agency, similar to the World Anti-Doping Agency, to tackle the problem.

However, Rogge says: “I prefer something more flexible where there is a general agreement on the need to legislate and to exchange information.”

But, if sport is tackling corruption from the outside, what about corruption from within?

Rogge was a guest at last week’s FIFA Congress and, in his speech, pointedly reminded the delegates how the IOC had cleaned up their act in the wake of the Salt Lake City bidding scandal.

He tells me: “We solved the problem by first of all admitting that there was an issue. The second thing was that president Juan Antonio Samaranch had the vision to review the whole functioning of the IOC. In a nutshell, we moved from a sports club to an international organisation.” The IOC ended up expelling 12 members.

So does FIFA’s unwillingness to act suggest a lack of will? Given that FIFA president Sepp Blatter is also a fellow IOC member, Rogge carefully dances round the issue.

“No, I know them in FIFA well enough to know it’s not through lack of will. We suffered a lot and showed a bad example 13 years ago. Now, fortunately, this is over. But it took a crisis to do that. FIFA have not yet been through the pains we have been through with Salt Lake City. I hope they do not have to.”

Even in this crisis, the IOC may again show FIFA the way. While FIFA are taking no action against Issa Hayatou, a FIFA executive member and president of the African Football Federation, the IOC might. This is because Hayatou, who has denied allegations he took a bribe related to Qatar’s 2022 World Cup bid, is also an IOC member.

Rogge says: “We are investigating the claims of BBC Panorama that his confederation allegedly received money and also the latest allegations of the newspaper [Sunday Times] that he received $1.5 million from Qatar.”

Rogge is keen to emphasise that, for all the talk of corruption, most sport is run by volunteers.

He says: “We are volunteers like the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. When Avery Brundage, a millionaire, was president, all the IOC members paid their own costs. They even paid an annual fee to the IOC. But now you have far more people who are working people, like I used to be [as a surgeon]. Our travel, board and living expenses are reimbursed. Otherwise none of us could afford to be a member. But we don’t get paid. We do it for the love of sport.”

But surely IOC members are a very special kind of volunteer. During 2012 IOC members, including Blatter, will be staying in the swankiest Park Lane hotels and have special travel lanes.

This issue does touch on a nerve.

“There is a total misconception by the general public about the Olympic lanes,” he says. “Without Olympic lanes, there are no Games. People believe Olympic lanes are made for the 115 members of the IOC. In Beijing, the trips of the Olympic family at large were less than five per cent of the total trips during the Games. Who uses the Olympic lanes? The 10,500 athletes.

“You can’t ask an athlete to wake up at 4am to take the underground in his tracksuit and get to the competition for an 8.30am warm-up. During the journey he will be asked by many people for an autograph and for pictures. So he has to be driven to the scene.

“They are the stars, making the show. The same goes for the coaches, the doping control people and the 25,000 media personnel. There’s no way they could travel in London by using the underground or on a bus.”

Rogge, who represented his country as a yachtsman in three Olympics, keeps in touch with the athletes by living in the Village once the Games start. He says, with a smile: “I think Sebastian [Coe] is going to get me a decent bed!”


Share |



Latest Tweets

Follow me on twitter

Home | About | Books | History | BroadcastingJournalismPublic Speaking | Contact | Website development by Pedalo