Belgian Wins Olympic Presidency


The most powerful position in world sports remained in European hands Monday as former Olympic sailor Jacques Rogge, a Belgian physician with a reputation for integrity, was elected president in the International Olympic Committee's first contested election in 21 years.

Rogge, who replaces retiring Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain, was elected by an emphatic margin, receiving 59 of 110 votes cast. The results of the secret ballot immediately unleashed controversy, with one of the four challengers bowing out of ceremonies that followed and Anita DeFrantz of Los Angeles, the only U.S. candidate, accusing IOC members of rejecting her because, she said, "I'm an American woman."

But Samaranch led many others, including U.S. Olympic leaders and key Olympic corporate partners, in welcoming the new president: "He is the best president for the IOC at this moment," Samaranch said. "The message is that we got a heavyweight."

"We admire his presence, his skills," U.S. Olympic Committee President Sandra Baldwin said. "He understands the Olympic movement. And with Jacques Rogge, we'll work together to strike a balance on what he considers important from the European perspective and what we consider important to the Olympic movement from our perspective."

Known to Olympic insiders for his measured calm and diplomatic nature, Rogge, 59, quickly moved to strike a new chord in an organization that has been rocked in recent years by a scandal and revelations of lavish spending. "My job is to unite," he declared shortly after his election.

Though Rogge's presidency continues the European domination of the IOC, he made a point Monday of reaching out to the United States, which supplies most of the movement's financial support and has been a regular host of the Games over the last 20 years. The U.S. "must play a very great role" on the Olympic scene, Rogge said.

During his campaign for the eight-year term, Rogge called for a reduction in the size and scope of the Games, saying they are so big that only the wealthiest cities can afford them, and described the use of illicit performance-enhancing substances by athletes as the "greatest threat to the credibility of sport."

Asked Monday about the direction of the IOC and the Olympic movement, he replied, "I want to listen. Having listened, I will come up with policies."

With the Winter Games set to begin in February in Salt Lake City, Rogge said he has much work to do, including finding a place to stay. While most IOC leaders enjoy first-class hotel accommodations during the Games, Rogge said he intends to stay with the athletes in the Olympic Village--which would be a first. It's a "wonderful gesture," Salt Lake Olympic Committee President Mitt Romney said.

One thing already is certain--the Summer Games of 2004, awarded to Athens, will be held in Athens. Serious talk circulated last year that the 2004 Olympics might have to be moved elsewhere, perhaps Seoul or Los Angeles, as preparations for those Games have been plagued by delays.

Rogge, the IOC's point man in dealing with Athens, has long made it clear that moving the Games elsewhere is not an option.

The election in Moscow marked the formal end to 21 years--to the day--of Samaranch's reign.

Samaranch Led IOC Through Ups, Downs

During his tenure, the Olympic movement became a billion-dollar business and sports enterprise, with its symbol--the five interlocking rings--recognized the world over. The Samaranch legacy will forever be clouded, though, by the Salt Lake City corruption scandal, which erupted in late 1998 and led to the resignation or expulsion of 10 members as well as a 50-point reform plan.

Samaranch's influence, however, will be felt for years. Samaranch, who turns 81 today and had long decided to step down this year, personally saw to that as he spent his last few days in office engineering five key plays during the IOC's meeting in Moscow:

* Beijing, his choice, was elected to play host to the 2008 Summer Games, a historic move that takes the Games for the first time to the world's most populous country.

* Samaranch's son, Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., was elected an IOC member.

* The IOC agreed to help maintain offices for Samaranch in Lausanne, Switzerland, the committee's home base, as well as in his hometown, Barcelona, and to pay for certain expenses.

* The IOC also agreed to give Samaranch the right to attend the board's meetings and to speak at them but not to vote--in essence, precisely what he has been doing for years, though he won't now formally be running the meetings. Samaranch insisted that as former president, he would "not be a shadow of the president."

* Finally, Rogge became the IOC president, its eighth. Samaranch was publicly neutral during the campaign, but he made no secret after the election was over that he believes Rogge is the appropriate heir.

Rogge sailed in three Olympics (1968, 1972 and 1976). He became an IOC member in 1991 and was the committee's chief liaison to the Sydney Games. He speaks five languages. An orthopedic surgeon and father of two, he is married to a doctor, Anne, whom he calls a "saint" for putting up with his extensive travel. They live in a farmhouse in Deinze, outside Ghent, Belgium.

Rogge has a reputation as Mr. Clean. The Salt Lake City scandal was directly tied to a policy that enabled IOC members to travel throughout the 1980s and '90s to cities bidding to host the Games. Rogge has never been on such a visit. Many members want the visits reinstated, and Rogge said Monday evening at the news conference that the scope of all 50 reforms ought to be revisited after the Salt Lake Games.

Because of Rogge's upstanding reputation, some observers called his election a wholehearted endorsement by the members of an IOC committed to reform. Others urged caution. They noted, for instance, that Vitaly Smirnov of Russia, who ran unopposed, was elected Monday as one of the IOC's four vice presidents; Smirnov had received a "serious" warning from the IOC in connection with his role in the Salt Lake City scandal. He strongly denies any wrongdoing.

After years of anticipation and build-up within the IOC, the election was over in a mere 10 minutes.

Rogge soundly defeated DeFrantz, Kim Un Yong of South Korea, Dick Pound of Canada and Pal Schmitt of Hungary.

Some close to DeFrantz, fearing a poor showing, had urged her to withdraw. A bronze medalist in rowing at the 1976 Games and the first female vice president in IOC history, DeFrantz wanted to become the first black and first female IOC president in history. All seven past presidents have been white males, and all but one were from Europe.

DeFrantz received nine votes of the 107 cast in the first round. Presumably, that included one she was allowed to cast for herself in the secret ballot. The three other Americans on the IOC--Jim Easton, Bob Ctvrtlik and Bill Hybl--were by rule locked out of voting on her behalf.

U.S. Candidate Unhappy With Loss

Afterward, she said that "the U.S. Olympic Committee did nothing" to support her campaign and that her nationality and gender were held against her.

"I lost because I'm an American woman," she said. "Oh, yeah. Absolutely."

Asked to explain, she said: "Europe does not like America. Even under these rules, the U.S. is not particularly supported."

Baldwin, the USOC president, checked out of her Moscow hotel early Monday afternoon and could not be reached for comment. But, anticipating such remarks, she said Saturday night: "The United States firmly supports Anita DeFrantz."

Kim, 70, came to Moscow aiming to capitalize on support from IOC members in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and eastern and southern Europe. Censured for nepotism for his role in the Salt Lake City scandal, he had made a strong comeback.

With Samaranch backing Rogge behind the scenes, however, Kim was forced Monday to endure a public humiliation in front of his fellow IOC members as a prelude to defeat.

South Korean Denies He Favored Payment Plan

Reports published Sunday suggested that Kim was advocating giving $50,000 per year to each IOC member for expenses. He denied the allegations. The IOC's Ethics Commission promptly launched an inquiry, then said Sunday night that it would take no action.

Immediately before the vote Monday, the facts of the episode were repeated for all IOC members in attendance.

"It was very bad to make another long presentation for smoke just before the vote," Kim said afterward.

Kim declined to attend the ceremony at which the envelope was opened and Rogge named president.

"I didn't feel like it," he said with a wry laugh.

Pound, who had hoped to do far better, was soft-spoken after finishing third, with 22 votes in the second round. "I think I'd rather be talking to you as the president than not as the president," he said.

A Montreal lawyer, Pound, 59, has been instrumental in the explosive financial growth of the Olympic movement. He negotiated the $3.5-billion deal that gave NBC the U.S. broadcast rights to the Games from 2000 through 2008. For years he has headed the IOC's marketing efforts.

He also led the IOC's inquiry into the Salt Lake City scandal and is the first chief of the recently formed World Anti-Doping Agency--two jobs not likely to help in an IOC election, which is so dependent on personality politics.

On Sunday, for instance, Samaranch said at the meetings that the anti-doping situation in sports was a "mess."

Shortly after the vote, Pound tendered his resignation to various posts, keeping only his IOC membership.

Meanwhile, immediately upon learning that he had won, Rogge thanked his wife, the other candidates, his fellow IOC members, his mentor in Belgium, and Samaranch. Then he presented Samaranch with the golden Olympic Order--the IOC's highest honor--and the pair posed for pictures, holding hands.

That moment, rich with symbolism, and afterward, when Samaranch and Rogge appeared together to speak to a throng of reporters, led even longtime Samaranch supporters to say they were concerned, if not alarmed--both at the former president's obvious desire to hang on to the limelight and because it is imperative that Rogge be his own man.

"We love Juan Antonio," one influential insider said. "But this is crazy. It's over. It's time to say goodbye."

A member of the Executive Board said: "Jacques Rogge is a European. He was born and educated in the Samaranch period. The question mark is, is Jacques Rogge different from Samaranch or not?"

Asked a few minutes later how he would go about proving that he is indeed his own man, Rogge replied: "Wait and see."



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