The future looks bright

The IOC President, Jacques Rogge, fields questions during a media session.-Pic. JOHN GICHIGI/GETTY IMAGES

Rogge's 18 months in office have been productive. He has nice things to look back upon and is confident of the future.

THE International Olympic Committee President, Jacques Rogge, tells the four-time Olympic gold-medallist Alexander Popov about his first 18 months at the helm and his future course.

Question: You have been in office as IOC President for more or less 18 months now. What have been the best and worst moments during this period?

Answer: I'm not one for looking back but my best memory would be for the success of the Salt Lake City Games and the achievements of the athletes there. Without wanting to make exceptions, what Kostelic and Eberharter did in the skiing, and the big success of the other sports, were special highlights. Those are the nice things looking back because first and foremost it's about sport.

The saddest thing was what happened on September 11 in New York. It was not only a terrible tragedy in itself, it has also had consequences for all the Olympic sports. It means more careful security is required now. Another sad thing was to discover there was cheating taking place in the judging of ice skating. That was very bad because it has affected the athletes, but overall there were more good things than bad, I think.

What are the future plans of the IOC?

Our future plans are to improve the quality of the Olympic Games for the athletes. To have the Games centred around the athletes and, at the same time, to reduce the size, complexity and cost of the Games, without touching the number of athletes, the Olympic Programme size, and without affecting everything that is needed to broadcast the Games to the world. So we're working very hard on that to make sure the Games are more solid, and we can repeat what we did in Sydney. Sydney was a perfect Games, and it was perfect because of Sydney and Australia. You do not find Sydney everywhere in the world, so it will be wise to reduce the cost and the size so that more cities have the chance to achieve the same level of quality that we saw in Australia.

The second thing is, we are fighting very hard against doping through the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). We tripled the number of tests in Salt Lake City. We had seven positive cases whereas we had only five positives between 1924 in Chamonix and 1998 in Nagano, which gives you an indication that we are catching more cheats. And the more cheats we catch, the better we protect the athletes. Also, through the IOC we have looked to improve transparency, we have embodied modern management rules, and we have changed the administration set-up. Basically we want to invest more in development, and help developing countries. So these are the main objectives.

How is the preparation going ahead of next year? Is Athens going to be ready in time for next year's Games?

Yes. Absolutely. Athens will be ready. There were some delays in the beginning, we complained, they changed the structure, and then they accelerated.

Recently we noted a slowing down of the preparations but now we anticipate it is picking up again. In 18 months time the Games will not only be ready, it will be an excellent Games.

Today, I am not concerned for the athletes because the Olympic Village will be absolutely fabulous. The infrastructure and facilities should be of a high quality and the sports very well organised.

In Sydney we saw examples of athletes representing countries who were given wild cards, but were not up to the Olympic standard. Will we see this situation recur in Athens?

We want to avoid what happened in swimming in Sydney. The public loved it, but I did not like it. We have to respect the athletes. The Olympic Games are a mixture of pure quality, that is the best athletes in the world, and at the same time athletes of a less quality who achieve universality.

If you decided to have only the best ones, then you may have only fifty per cent of the nations participating, so you need to give some universality. However, the level of those people must be raised, and that is what we are going to do with Olympic Solidarity.

In the past we made the error to select these athletes at the last moment. A country would say, `We have no qualified athletes, can we bring a wild card?' And these athletes were not trained enough. They were not good enough. Now, we've asked all the countries that are likely not to have qualified athletes to send them to foreign training centres, or country training centres, two years beforehand. We will give them a lot of support, and in two years time we can raise their levels, so these situations will not arise again.

How has your past sports career helped you in your role as IOC President?

I think it has helped me. I was not a great champion like you. I was a decent, World class athlete but not at the level of reaching the podium, but I benefitted from training and from competition.

I used to train three times a day, I used to compete. Everything was focused on the competition so it teaches you discipline. It teaches to set a goal, and it teaches you that nothing is achieved without working hard.

It teaches you a lot of skills. It gives you confidence, it gives you respect for your opponents. It makes you understand that you work as a team. So definitely, yes, it was a great learning experience. Comparing you, the advantage I have is that I was more used to losing, and less used to winning!

Going back to my sports career, having lost more than I won also taught me a lot about humility. If you lose there's no chance of becoming arrogant. But I know you have managed to maintain your humility too.

Knowing the hours that need to be spent on training, how were you able to train while studying at medical school at the same time?

It required some organisation. I would wake up at quarter to six and then run 10 km. I would then have breakfast before going to medical school. At lunch time I would go to the weight training room and work for an hour to an hour and a half. Then at four or five o'clock I would go out sailing for an hour or two.

So that meant no holidays, no movies, no theatre and no restaurant with my fianc�e, who has since become my wife. Everything was focused around the competition. But if you love that, and I love both medicine and sports, it's not a problem.

I know from my own experience the importance of having a supportive partner. Is that the same for you?

I think I'm married to a saint, and you're probably married to a saint too. It is true you cannot build either a sports career or a professional career without the great support of a partner. And for the partner, it is not easy because they receive nothing, and they have to give everything.

They do not achieve the success themselves. The media attention, and all the rewards are afforded to the champion, not for them, so it requires a great amount of love and dedication. The key thing is to give back. If you don't give back, it doesn't work.

When you took over office as IOC President, you had to give up your medical career. Do you miss your medical practice?

No, I don't miss it. I've done surgery for 35 years which is more than you have lived on this planet! It's a wonderful job and a great passion, but I now have the privilege to do something else I am passionate about.

I had a team of surgeons around me. Now they are probably doing a far better job than I was doing. It's the same with the IOC. I took over from Samaranch and I will hand over the reins to someone else. The job will continue.

What is your fondest memory as an athlete?

I will surprise you. My fondest memory was when I won the trials for my first Olympic Games participation in 1968. I badly wanted to go to the Games then. I tried very hard and in '64 I just missed out on selection to someone who went on to win a silver medal. At that time, he was better than me.

By '68 I could beat him. Overall, he was a better sailor than I was because he was three times World champion and twice a medallist, but I was able to win the trial in '68 and that was a very good moment because I knew I was going to the Games.

Courtesy: Olympic Review