CONCERNED: International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge has been assured the Indian Olympic body will not tolerate political interference. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

PARIS — Jacques Rogge enters his final days as president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) having firmly imposed his "Mr Normal" image on the movement.

The 71-year-old Belgian has 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 is 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 committee was in desperate need of a pair of safe and clean hands.

Thus it was that Rogge polled higher than his principal opponents, Canadian lawyer Dick Pound and the scandal-tainted Kim Un-Yong, who had received a serious warning in the fallout of the Salt Lake City scandal. "A heavyweight has been elected," opined 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," Rogge said.

He did add that he adored cubist art but abstract was more within his financial capabilities. Since then, his presidency has reflected that — a tightly run ship appropriate for a three-time Olympic sailor.

His brainchild the Youth Olympic Games has been created, rugby and golf have been voted back into the games (for 2016) 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.

Rogge has also said there were other things he would leave behind when he stepped down that he could feel proud about.

"Normally with regards to legacy you only speak about that when people die," he said in 2012. "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.

"However, I took up the baton of Samaranch and I believe I will leave behind some notable successes," he said.

"The Olympic Games under my presidency has been very well organised, the Youth Olympic Games has been a very great success. I have fought against doping and illegal betting and I will leave with the financial revenue in a very strong state.

"This (money) is not a good thing necessarily and not the essence of what we are about, but without money you cannot cook."

This dry humour reveals another side — not often revealed in public but evident to those who have spent time with him — and humour at his own expense is never too far away, he said.

"I was a ringside doctor for five years," he said 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.’"

Not that everything has been rosy for him.

He was competing against an Israeli yachtsman the day that 11 of his opponents, fellow athletes and coaches were murdered by the Black September terror group at the 1972 Olympics.

Last year in London he displayed his usual sound diplomatic tack by refusing emotional calls to hold a minute’s silence at the opening ceremony of the London Games to mark the 40th anniversary but 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 death has struck the Games.

Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died in a practice run prior to the 2010 Vancouver Games and it produced a rare moment of public emotion as Rogge brushed aside tears in giving his tribute to the young athlete.

Rogge’s favourite book is the French classic The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and when all is said and done, and the curtain comes down on his final test, he will reflect more on some lines from that book, in which the king tells the Little Prince:

"Then you shall judge yourself. That is the most difficult thing of all. It is much more difficult to judge oneself than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself rightly, then you are indeed a man of true wisdom."

Sapa-AFP