10 May 2012

Questions for Olympic chief Jacques Rogge

Should Saudi Arabia be forced to let women compete in London 2012? Should Syrian officials be welcome at the Olympics? Keme Nzerem on the questions facing Olympic chief Jacques Rogge.

At around noon today a simple pageant in a Greek amphitheatre will mark the the official start of London’s Olympic jamboree. But it is simple only at first glance. Maidens clad in traditional robes will light the Olympic torch using the rays of the sun. And thence the torch will begin its meandering week-long journey to Athens before its handover to the Brits.

The symbol of the modern games – the torch – borne where nymphs and Gods once held court.

But didn’t the ancient Greeks also teach us their Gods were fallible?

The International Olympic Committee presides over a global sporting circus that holds – it is said – billions of fans and viewers in its thrall every four years. Every two years, if one also considers the winter games.

The decisions it makes have profound implications throughout its would-be domain.

Just eight years ago Athens was basking in Olympic glory. But even then, many worried the games were a huge financial burden. And in the years after the crowds went home, cracks began to show in the city’s unused and derelict Olympic facilities.

And today as the torch is lit again for another games, in another country, to some the Olympics amount to a symbol of the profligacy and poor planning that has left Greece without a functioning government, and on the brink of ending its shambolic experiment in the struggling Eurozone.

Now this is hardly the International Olympic Committee’s fault. But the symbolism is difficult to ignore.

Of course the IOC has faced off criticism before. Its outgoing President Jacques Rogge was raised to its throne as the Olympic empire looked like it might be crumbling.

Rogge was elected in 2001 on a mandate of clearing out corruption after the Salt Lake scandal. IOC officials were found to have taken bribes, in exchange for backing the Utah city’s bid to host the 2002 winter games. Rogge’s last term ends in 2013.

Questions aplenty

The London games will be his swansong. Will they be, as many have suggested, the best Olympics ever? He talks to Channel 4 News this morning, as the torch is prepared for its final transfer to London.

There is plenty to discuss: does he think London is ready? Does he worry about surface to air missiles being very visibly used to “protect” the games? What is going to be done about the Saudis refusal to allow women to compete? What about Syria? Is the head of their Olympic association – a good friend of Assad – welcome or not? Should the IOC have paid more attention to the amount of money Greece was spending on an event it couldn’t afford?

Former drugs cheats will now be competing at these games. There could be dozens competing against athletes who have always been drug free. How is world sport going to clean up its act?

Follow Keme Nzerem in Greece on Twitter: @nzerem.