Keeping the Olympic flame alive in times of change
IMD hosts IOC President Jacques Rogge
May 21, 2013
The IMD Alumni Club of Lausanne recently invited a speaker widely recognized as one of the most powerful men in sports. Jacques Rogge is President of the International Olympic Committee since 2001, has presided over six summer and winter Olympic Games and contributed to the foundation of the Youth Olympic Games in 2010.
A former top athlete himself, he presented the challenges faced by the Olympic Movement in a rapidly changing world and how its founding principles will continue to overcome them.
By profession an orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Rogge was a yachting champion who won Belgium's championship sixteen times and represented his country three times in the Olympic Games. While President of the Belgian Olympic Committee from 1989, he became President of the European Olympic Committee, before succeeding Juan Antonio Samaranch in 2002 as President of the IOC.
In a talk meant to stir emotions and steer action, President Rogge communicated his belief in sport as a catalyser of humanity and an upholder of universal values. Without trying to hide its darker realities, he painted the picture of an event that installs a truce between nations when it takes place, putting all belligerences at rest, as it did when it was invented in Ancient Greece.
A business model adapted to its times
Dr. Rogge explained how the IOC, which includes the participation of 205 nations and 28 sports, continues to be a strong business model and social leader. The TV rights (which now extend to mobile devices) generate revenues of $5 billion every two years, thanks to the interest of 4.7 billion viewers, a figure that expands to 20 billion cumulated viewers for the duration of the games. 94% of the revenue is redistributed at a grass roots level, with a preference for investments in developing countries.
The darker issues
As a social model, the Olympic movement recognizes its responsibility in furthering a number of important causes, while resisting nefarious influences. On the dark side, the IOC President enumerated the ethical issues that have come to the forefront in recent years, starting with doping. Not only is it a danger to an athlete's health, but it attacks the credibility of sport and the possibilities of recruitment because "mothers who want their children safe will enroll them in ballet or music lessons instead."
The former doctor explained that blood samples are now kept for eight years in order to provide a longitudinal blood profile that allows later tests to reveal doping that escaped the first tests. "There is still doping, but less of it," he concluded.
Violence and racism, especially during football matches, are major issues that have required the intervention of governments and the creation of new legislation. As for corruption due to match fixing, unlike doping that leaves tangible traces, the internet has made money laundering very difficult to track.
Rogge justified the high costs of stringent security during the games by saying: "This is an investment in our freedom, without hiding behind big doors," adding, "If we do nothing in sport, the danger will move to rock concerts and political rallies."
The brighter causes
On the brighter side, the Olympic movement has taken on a proactive role in prominent causes or concerns. "Women must access the place they deserve," declared Rogge, stating that their participation had increased from 18% in the 1980 Moscow Games to 45% in the 2012 London Olympic Games. "But although we are close to gender equality in the games, women are still underrepresented in the ruling bodies," he admitted.
Access to sport for the disabled is also important, Rogge explained, because "the fantastic athletes are real role models."
He then described how the humanitarian assistance of the Olympic committee in crisis situations does not come in the shape of material goods, like blankets or food, but sport, by the reconstruction of venues and the organization of encounters: "You cannot imagine what sport does for young people in refugee camps."
But the action in which Rogge appears to take most pride is the professional integration of athletes once their sports career is over: "We cannot just shake their hands and tell them to look after themselves," he said, describing a scheme that has already allowed more than 10'000 former athletes to find a new professional occupation.
Fears of gigantism and security permeate the decisions of the Olympic Committee, as well as concerns over the ecological impact of installations. "We don't want to leave white elephants behind," he said of the necessity of ensuring that nominated host cities actually have the means of their ambitions.
What ties it all together, Rogge is convinced, is the over-riding importance of the Olympic values of fair play, respect and tolerance, as well as universality and solidarity. They are the motors that ensure the longevity and enduring necessity of the games, as well as excellence, which he reminded the audience, was a common trait with IMD.
"Sport strengthens the body and the mind, and allows for social integration. Our role is to perpetrate the dream of sport," he repeated, which is the reason Jacques Rogge continues to be optimistic for the movement he leads.