Jacques Rogge, a Brussels surgeon who yesterday became leader of the Olympic movement, has been dubbed Mr Clean. It is, at best, a relative term – if there is such a thing as guilt by association, it hardly helps Mr Rogge's arrival as the most important figure in sport that he is the hand-picked successor to Juan Antonio Samaranch as president of the International Olympic Committee. Mr Samaranch was handed a gold medal in recognition of his services when power passed from him in Moscow yesterday. His critics would say that 30 pieces of silver might have been more appropriate.
No doubt Samaranch transformed the Olympics and quite probably saved them after the disaster of Montreal in 1976, a fiscal catastrophe still being covered by the ratepayers of that city. When Samaranch took over from the amiable aristocrat Lord Killanin, the Olympics simply couldn't pay their way. Now they have the pomp and the clout of a nation state. But at a terrible price.
Though the Olympics of Sydney last summer were an extraordinary triumph, it was one for the spirit and the organising powers of the Australian hosts rather than the IOC, who expelled six members and censured others after revelations of appalling corruption in the granting of the upcoming Winter Games to Salt Lake City. For many, it was stunning that Samaranch survived the scandal. His escape from responsibility, his uninterrupted enjoyment of the trappings of office – and he enjoyed them hugely – only compounded the sense that he had built a personal empire, one marked more than anything by compliance with the needs of corporate business and the American NBC television network.
Mr Samaranch's enthusiasm for last week's nomination of China as host of the 2008 Olympics, despite that country's appalling human rights record, was widely seen as a gift to important sponsors such as Coca Cola, who had been enthused by the vast market potential offered by the size of the Chinese population. That, coupled with dismay over the years at the IOC's equivocal approach to the problem of performance-enhancing drugs, constitutes a dismal legacy for the new president.
An Olympic yachtsman and rugby international in his time, Mr Rogge admits that "There are a lot of things to be done." Chief among them is a reassertion that the Olympics are supposed to be about sport and not the most cynical of big business.Reuse content