The Olympic organization announced Sunday that Jacques Rogge, who led the Olympic movement to financial and political stability after the worst ethics scandal, and took a strong stand against doping in his 12 years as president of the IOC, has passed away. He was 79.
His death was announced by the International Olympic Committee without providing any details. Rogge’s health was clearly declining when he attended the Olympic events in 2013, after his presidency.
“First and foremost, Jacques loved sports and being with athletes — he transmitted that passion to all who knew him,” Thomas Bach (Rogge’s successor) said in an IOC declaration. His joy for sport was infectious.
Rogge, an ex-orthopedic surgeon from Belgium, led the IOC through periods of relative calme and prosperity over a term that included three Summer Olympics as well as three Winter Games.
Three-time Olympian in sailing, Rogge was praised for his ability to bring a steady hand to the sometimes turbulent world of Olympic politics. However, outside critics were critical of Rogge’s lackluster approach to human rights issues with China or Russia.
After years of bitter squabbling about money-sharing, he managed to maintain a steady increase in IOC revenues; made peace after years of bitter squabbling; and created the Youth Olympics in his personal legacy.
Rogge was the IOC’s chief observer. The IOC awarded the Olympics to new continents and countries, including the first Summer Games in South America (Rio de Janeiro 2016), and the first Winter Games in Russia (Sochi 2014) as well as Pyeongchang 2018.
Rogge stated that he hopes that people will remember that he did a good job at the IOC in an interview with The Associated Press. He resigned in 2013. “That’s what you legitimately desire to be remembered for.”
Rogge was elected eighth IOC president in Moscow on July 16, 2001. He defeated four other candidates to succeed Juan Antonio Samaranch. Samaranch is a Spaniard who ran IOC with an autoritarian and imperious style for 21 year. Rogge was elected in the wake the Salt Lake City corruption scandal in which 10 IOC members were forced to resign or were expelled because they received lavish gifts, payments, scholarships and other financial aid during Utah’s successful bid for 2002 Winter Games.
Rogge was a “Mr. Rogge enjoyed a “Mr. He announced within hours of his election that he would be staying in the village of the athletes and not the IOC hotel for the Salt Lake Olympics. He continued this practice at the subsequent games. However, he would also stay in the official hotel for important meetings.
Gerhard Heiberg, a Norwegian ex-member of the IOC, said that he was “absolutely the right person at just the right time.” We went through a lot. We had to escape from that. We needed a new image. He added stability to the company.”
Samaranch’s unpretentious, measured style was starkly opposed to Rogge. Rogge was more democratic, collaborative, and management-oriented than Samaranch, the ex-Spanish diplomat. Rogge described himself as a “sober leader.”
Rogge served an eight-year term and was then re-elected in 2009 unopposed to a second, final four-year term. In September 2013, he resigned in Buenos Aires. Germany’s Thomas Bach was elected his successor.
Rogge stated that he received an IOC in good condition from Samaranch before handing it over to Bach. “And I believe I’ll leave an IOC in great shape to my successor.”
Rogge could speak five languages which was a major selling point for the multilingual IOC. Although his native language was Flemish, or Dutch, he could also speak French, English and Spanish.
Rogge was the presider of the Summer Olympics in Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008), London (2012), and the Winter Games in Salt Lake City (2002, Turin (2006), and Vancouver (2010).
Salt Lake City was established just months after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Rogge met with George W. Bush, then President, to discuss security measures for the games. They went smoothly. The preparations for the Athens Games were plagued by delays. Beijing was embroiled in controversy about China’s record regarding Tibet, human rights, and press freedom.
Rogge was accused by human rights groups of failing to condemn abuses in China or Russia. Rogge advocated “quiet diplomacy” but repeatedly insisted that the IOC was not a government or political organization.
Rogge stated that the most tragic moment in his presidency was Nodar Kumaritashvili (Georgian luger), who was killed in a high speed training accident hours before the Vancouver 2010 opening ceremony.
While Samaranch and the IOC were criticized for a perceived laxness on performance-enhancing drugs, Rogge initiated a high-profile “zero tolerance” policy on doping. To catch cheaters, he doubled the number and severity of drug testing at the Olympics from 5,000 to 5,000. He also instituted strict pre-game and out-of competition checks.
Rogge frequently warned about match-fixing and illegal gambling. He set up a special unit to monitor betting patterns during Olympics. Rogge was strict about ethics and forced or suspended members who were involved in violations. He also remained firm to the post Salt Lake City ban on member visits at bid cities.
Rogge’s opinions were not always well-received. He was criticised for being out of touch when it came to Usain Bolt’s showboating in Beijing. Rogge also questioned whether the London-based “living legend” was the Jamaican sprinter.
Jewish groups criticized Rogge for refusing to allow a moment’s silence at London’s opening ceremony in memory of the 11 Israeli soldiers killed at the 1972 Munich Games by Palestinian gunmen. Outside of the ceremonies, he did participate in special commemorations for Israelis.
Rogge established a limit of 10500 athletes and 28 games for the Summer Games to reduce the cost and size of the Olympics. Despite this, the Tokyo Olympics closed with approximately 11,000 athletes in 33 sports.
He had to struggle with the difficult issue of adding and cutting sports. After 2008, softball and baseball were dropped from the program. For 2016, golf and rugby were added. In 2012, wrestling was dropped from the program. However, it was given another chance in 2016 and regained its place.
Rogge, who was concerned about youth obesity and wanted to help them get off the couch, created his favorite project — the Youth Olympic Games. This event was open to athletes between 15 and 18 years old. It included both sports competition and educational experiences. In 2010, the Summer Youth Games was launched in Singapore. The second edition took place in Nanjing (China) in August 2014. In 2018, there were summer Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, with the second edition held in Nanjing, China in August 2014. In 2012, there was winter Youth Games at Innsbruck (Austria), Lillehammer (Norway), and Lausanne (Switzerland) in 2020.
Rogge’s tenure saw the IOC’s financial security improve. The revenue from global sponsors increased from $663 million to almost $1 billion during the four-year cycle through London. Deals for television rights raised billions, including a $4.38billion deal with NBC to host the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Over a period of 10 years, the IOC’s reserve increased from $100 million to $900 millions.
Rogge has signed a long-term revenue sharing agreement with the USOC in 2012, which was a significant breakthrough. Many Olympic officials had been expressing discontent for years about a previous agreement that gave too much to the U.S. in sponsorship and TV revenues.
Rogge’s health declined over the last years of his presidency. In September 2012, he had hip replacement surgery and looked far from the young, strong man who was elected to office.
Rogge’s wife Anne and their two adult children are his survivors.
Rogge was born in Ghent (a medieval Flemish port city) on May 2, 1942. He was three years old when he began sailing with his parents along the Belgian North Sea coast.
He competed in the sailing’s Finn class at three Olympics, in Mexico City 1968 and Munich 1972. He was also a member of Belgium’s national rugby club for 10 years.
Rogge started his career as a sports administrator at the age 34 when he was asked by Belgium to be an athlete’s representative on its national Olympic committee. He was Belgium’s Olympic team leader in 1980 Moscow. After the Soviet invasion, he refused to follow the U.S.-led boycott. The Olympic flag was adopted by the Belgian team that went to Moscow.
Rogge was the president of the European Olympic Committees between 1989 and 2001. He also headed the Belgian Olympic Committee in 1989-1992. Rogge was elected an IOC member in 1991. He is well-known for his leadership of the coordination committee for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Rogge was made count by King Albert II of Belgium in 2002. He also received an honorary British knighthood at London in 2014.
The IOC stated that the Olympic flag would be flown at half-staff for five days at Olympic House, Lausanne.
“Following an intimate family ceremony, a publicly memorial service will be held later in the year,” IOC stated. “Where members and friends will be able remember his life, and his great contributions to sport,”