LONDON (AFP) – Jacques Rogge, who has died aged 79, will be remembered for his term as President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as having firmly imposed his ‘Mr Normal’ image on the movement.
Unassuming and humble, he left the role as the most powerful man in sport in 2013 having restored lustre and honour to the image of the IOC and in strong financial health.
The Belgian adopted the same precision he learnt when he qualified as an orthopaedic surgeon in removing the extravagances of the previous era under Spaniard Juan Antonio Samaranch, who he replaced when the former Franco-era diplomat stepped down in 2001.
While there was nothing flamboyant about the bookish, quietly-spoken and cultivated Belgian, he was the natural choice to replace Samaranch at the election in Moscow in 2001.
Coming in the wake of the Salt Lake City ‘votes for gifts’ scandal which had rocked the movement and seen several members expelled, the IOC was in desperate need of a pair of safe and clean hands.
“A heavyweight has been elected,” said Samaranch at the time.
Rogge told the Chicago Tribune on his election that his love of a particular type of art resembled his character.
“I categorise things. My medical skills are like that. Abstract art is all about shapes and sizes you can categorise. It’s like being a pilot with a checklist. I am abstract, but not romantic,” said Rogge.
Rogge adored Cubist art but abstract was more within his financial reach.
His presidency reflected that, a tightly-run ship – appropriate for a three-time Olympic sailor.
His brainchild, the Youth Olympic Games was created.
Rugby and golf were voted back into the Games and women’s boxing was one of the standout successes at what was also considered one of the best Games of all time in London in 2012.
“Have I enjoyed it? Not always. Was it exciting? Definitely, and it was a privilege of course to be president,” said Rogge when asked to sum up his spell in charge.
“You have good and bad moments but the fact is the biggest reward for me was the athletes’ welfare and in that I was successful.”
Rogge’s outwardly severe looking manner hid a warm personality – jokes at his own expense never far from his lips.
While he might have been the master of world sports it was far from being the case at home as he learnt at an early age.
“I was a ringside doctor for five years,” he told AFP in 2009.
“I was young, my shirt would often be spattered with blood as I was closest to the bout. I would come home with my shirt spattered in blood and my wife would say to me ‘you clean it’.”
Never one for soundbites – sometimes his remarks or answers could come across as too technocratic delivered behind his poker-faced expression – thoughts of the legacy he leaves do not matter a jot.
“Normally with regards to legacy you only speak about that when people die,” he told AFP.
“I didn’t take the mandate up to leave a legacy and historians can write about that in 20 years time if they so wish.”
He held his nerve when he refused emotional calls to hold a minute’s silence at the opening ceremony of the London Games to mark the 40th anniversary of the murder of 11 Israelis by the Black September terror group at the 1972 Olympics.
Instead Rogge – who had been competing on that day against an Israeli yachtsman – paid his own homage of a minute’s silence, a few days before the opening, in front of the Olympic Truce Wall in the Athletes Village.
Under his own presidency, tragedy struck the Games.
Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died in a practice run prior to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games and it produced a rare moment of public emotion as he brushed aside tears in giving his tribute to the young athlete.
“That was the worst moment and one that I will never forget,” he said as he looked back on his career.
True to the last, though, Rogge remained impassive as the members heaped praise on him, fighting it off with his self-deprecatory wit.
No more so than when the man who replaced him as president, Thomas Bach, said he would disobey him on the eve of his stepping down and pay him a compliment.
“Your disobedience tells me that I have reached the level of irrelevance.”
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