International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge says security issues top the agenda when he considers which city should be picked to host the Games.
The “best possible security” is his No. 1 consideration, Rogge said in an interview with The Times in which he commended the U.S. Olympic Committee for significant steps toward reform but cautioned that key detail work remains to be done.
Rogge, a Belgian physician elected IOC president nearly two years ago, also expressed guarded optimism in regards to preparations for the 2004 Games in Athens. Those Games, plans for which have been plagued for years by delays, begin Aug. 13, 2004, and Rogge said the IOC believes there has been a noted “acceleration” in the pace of construction in recent months.
He noted that Athens organizers must run a series of test events later this year -- so they, with IOC oversight, can fix any problems with such functions as ticketing and the computerized results systems. He said, “I don’t want to go back too much in the past but
“I prefer,” Rogge said, “to have a lot of problems the year before, address them, then have sleek and smooth Games.”
Rogge is on crutches because of a sprained ankle as the IOC gathers here, the birthplace of Franz Kafka, to take part in an event that can sometimes itself seem to border on the surreal -- the election Wednesday of a host city, in this case for the 2010 Winter Games. The cities in the running: Vancouver, Canada; Salzburg, Austria; and Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Rogge will not cast a vote Wednesday. He has consistently declined to name a favorite in the 2010 race and was not asked by The Times to do so.
But, asked to describe in a broad sense what he hoped the election would accomplish, he replied, “I would want the IOC members to elect a city that has absolutely the best file and then, of course, everyone has his own angle on that. I can give mine. Mine are definitely -- first of all, security, the best possible security.
“The biggest threat [to] the Games is not the quality of the Games, although we strive for perfect quality. The biggest threat to the Games is security, and that’s since Munich ’72, of course,” when Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and murdered 11 Israeli athletes and officials.
“If I would be voting, which is not the case, I would look very clearly at the security issue. Then I would look at the most classical file criteria, such as the general infrastructure of the country, political stability, financial stability, venue construction and then ultimately the quality of the people,” meaning government officials as well as executives with the bid teams. Those executives are likely to go on to become key players in the local organizing committees that actually stage the Games.
“Do we trust these people? Do we believe they will be able to organize the Games? Never forget we give the Games seven years beforehand. That’s how I did vote in the past.”
As for the USOC, Rogge said “intelligent adaptation” ought to solve a conflict between the IOC and U.S. officials that has arisen in the wake of USOC reform proposals presented last week to the U.S. Senate Commerce committee, led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
“There is a constructive spirit,” Rogge said.
Congress has been pushing for reform since the USOC’s penchant for political infighting erupted again earlier this year into a prolonged management crisis.
The USOC’s president, chief executive and several others resigned amid infighting triggered by a conflict of interest inquiry centering on the then-CEO, Lloyd Ward. That prompted McCain to launch a reform task force; the USOC, meantime, appointed its own internal reform commission
The two plans, announced in recent days, bear much in common -- in particular, a recognition that the USOC’s volunteer 124-member board of directors ought to be trimmed to a much smaller board, nine (the Senate panel’s suggestion) or 11 (the USOC’s proposal), and that the volunteers be relegated to a once-per-year assembly while a CEO runs the ship day to day.
The sticking point, from the IOC’s perspective, is that the reform plans do not comply with the rules in the Olympic Charter, the fundamental document that directs activities of the Olympic movement worldwide.
The charter says that “national governing bodies,” meaning the federations that oversee the various sports in each country, must hold a majority within a national Olympic committee’s assembly and executive committee. USA Wrestling and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Assn., to pick two, are examples of the more than three dozen federations now operating in the U.S.
Neither reform plan provides for a national governing bodies majority.
The reason for the rule? Officials of national governing bodies, according to the IOC, should understand the current and future needs of Olympic sport better than anyone else.