Citing Sept. 11 and Olympics scandal, new IOC chief opens meeting

Saturday, February 2nd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ With pointed references to the Sept. 11 attacks and the Olympics' own corruption scandal, the new IOC leader opened his first general assembly Sunday as the Winter Games drew near.

Jacques Rogge, elected as the eighth president of the International Olympic Committee last July in Moscow, said the multibillion-dollar industry that puts on the games was strong but faced many challenges, especially from world upheaval and the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

``Aside from the security threats that may arise during the games, the greatest danger to sport is doping,'' Rogge said in remarks prepared for delivery at the opening ceremony for the IOC's 113th session. ``Doping is not just an attack on ethics and fair play. It is also a direct attack on the health of the athletes. It is, moreover, a mortal danger to the credibility of the sports world.''

Rogge's remarks were to be delivered to 112 IOC members and guests in a downtown concert hall ringed by security barriers and patrolled by troops in combat gear and armed with automatic rifles. The ceremony was to feature a performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Rogge's predecessor, Juan Antonio Samaranch, often referred to the dangers of drugs in speeches during his 21 years as president. But the first opening address by the 59-year-old surgeon from Belgium was another sign that the IOC was stepping away from the rigid formality of the past into a more open and direct organization.

A good part of that change was force-fed after the million-dollar scandal involving Salt Lake City's winning bid. While other officials have said in recent days that the focus was now firmly on the future _ starting with the Winter Games that open on Friday _ Rogge presented the corruption case as the sort of danger the Olympics must learn from and avoid.

``It was here, in Salt Lake City, that we first learned of a profound crisis which nearly destroyed the IOC,'' Rogge said. ``But while this crisis arose here, it did not originate in Salt Lake City alone. Inappropriate structures and human weakness on both sides were the root of an evil that would have come to light here or somewhere else.''

Ten members were expelled or resigned for taking improper perks, and Rogge noted that a special assembly in Mexico City in November would deal with fine-tuning reforms.

Likewise, Rogge directly addressed the effect the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington have had on preparation and staging of the games and the management of international sports in general.

The ``tragic events'' of Sept. 11, he said, ``changed the face of the world and reminded us, if we still needed it, that sport is closely linked to the political and economic framework within which it develops.''

Rogge also noted the economic effect of the attacks, which have helped push the security budget for Salt Lake City to $310 million.

``The difficulties concerning air travel, the extra cost of security measures, and the increasing unpredictability of sources of funding for sports organizations are all new obstacles which will be a test for the Olympic movement,'' he said.

He thanked President Bush for his ``full support'' to make sure the games are safe.

``Where security is concerned, the president of the United States of America reaffirmed that everything would be done to ensure the peaceful holding of the games, and to guarantee access to the games for all participants,'' Rogge said.

He also thanked ``the American people and express our sincere gratitude to them'' for continued Olympic support.

The speech contained no direct reference to Afghanistan, which was barred from the IOC before the 2000 Sydney Games because of the Taliban's campaign against women in sports.

The IOC has started discussions with new Afghan leaders to return to the fold. But director general Francois Carrard reiterated Sunday that no Afghan representatives would take part in any way in Salt Lake City.

Rogge's prepared remarks cited other key issues facing the IOC, including: increased leadership roles for women, getting children to take up sports, and paring the size of the Olympics ``so that, one day, all continents will have the capacity to stage the games, without detriment to either their quality or their success.''