Those concerned for the moral health of the world's most influential sporting body, the International Olympic Committee, heaved a sigh of relief yesterday at the arrival of the good doctor – Dr Jacques Rogge, that is.
The emphatic vote which installed the 59-year-old Belgian orthopaedic surgeon at the head of the IOC in succession to the outgoing president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, sent out a clear message that the Olympic movement is deeply concerned for the image it presents to the world.
Many observers decried Friday's award of the 2008 Games to Beijing, a decision taken despite China's continuing brutality to all internal dissidents. The IOC line, espoused by Samaranch, was that not giving the Games to China eight years after their hopes of staging the 2000 Olympics were bitterly unrealised would merely have entrenched the attitudes now prevalent. And that by awarding them the Games, the IOC was also challenging the Chinese to show the world that they could alter their policies.
How realistic that hope was remains to be seen. But, given ambivalence over the Beijing award, a decision yesterday to hand over the presidency to Rogge's main rival, Dr Kim Un-Yong of South Korea, a man who received a "most serious warning" from those investigating the Salt Lake City Games scandal two years ago, would have tipped the movement backwards into its own murky recent history in many eyes.
Before the presidential election, the third realistic contender, Dick Pound of Canada, said the result would determine whether the movement slipped back into the Stone Age, or proceeded to a new Platinum Age.
Platinum won out yesterday, and the IOC can now look forward to a minimum of eight years under the stewardship of a man who has been widely acclaimed as safe, diplomatic, and – above all –- clean.
"If ever anyone came in with a blameless character, it was Jacques Rogge," Reedie said. "There are no skeletons in the Rogge cupboard." Rogge has an impeccable sporting background – he competed in three Olympics (1968, '72 and '76) as a Finn class yachtsman, in which category he also won the world title, and he also won 10 caps for the Belgian rugby union side.
He is a former lecturer in sports medicine, and is known to be one of the candidates most keen to clamp down on the crucial issue of doping abuse, already involving himself in the establishment of the IOC agency to monitor the battle, the World Anti-Doping Authority.
His linguistic abilities – he speaks five languages – and his smooth diplomacy established him as a favourite to succeed Samaranch before Kim's rumoured surge into contention.
Even the IOC's most virulent critic, the journalist and author Andrew Jennings, could find no blemish in the credentials of the man who has come to earn the nickname of "Dr Clean". "Just the fellow, you might think, to turn this tarnished gang around," Jennings wrote. "If sports fans or athletes elected the world leader of sport, Rogge would be a pretty good bet."
An early sign that Rogge was moving away from the IOC's image of lavish hotel suites and first-class travel, Rogge said he wanted to live with the athletes at the Olympic Village at next year's Salt Lake City Winter Games.
"I would want to fulfil one of my dreams, that is the IOC president would sleep in the Olympic Village," he said. "I think it's the best place to be in the Olympic Games."
Rogge stood clear as the only one of the three principal contenders not to have offered the rank and file hope of regaining their visiting rights. Along with a toughening of the IOC stance on doping, his presidency is likely to see a devolvement of some of the presidential powers built up during Samaranch's 21-year reign. Yesterday he went out of his way to emphasise his readiness to work with his defeated opponents, one of whom may end up in a newly created chief executive role.
Rogge is also expected to do something about the cumbersome nature of the Olympics, which are now so gigantic that only major cities can contemplate hosting them.
"I will devote all my energy to the defence of the credibility of sport wherever it is attacked by doping, corruption and violence," he said.
The Belgian's win was abetted by Samaranch's lobbying of members in Moscow. The 81-year-old Spaniard thus leaves his position like a departing football hero who has scored a hat-trick in a cup final. Beijing, the city he favoured for the 2000 Olympics, has finally received the Games it craved; his man, Rogge, has ascended to the top job, and his son, Juan Antonio Jnr, has been confirmed as a newly elected IOC member for Spain.
Not only that, but the wily old politician has managed to bend the Olympic rules, as he once did to prolong his tenure of the presidency, enabling himself to attend all the meetings of the IOC's executive board as honorary life president.Reuse content