Jacques Rogge: IOC president who took his surgeon’s scalpel to cancer of corruption and doping

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Rogge retired from medicine and was appointed as the eighth president of the IOC in 2001 (Getty)
Rogge retired from medicine and was appointed as the eighth president of the IOC in 2001 (Getty)

Jacques Rogge was the orthopaedic surgeon and former Olympic sailor for Belgium, who took the helm of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as its president, from 2001 to 2013. During his term of office he successfully transformed the organisation’s public image and restored its finances after several years of corruption allegations.

Rogge, who has died aged 79, told Brian Viner in an interview for this newspaper in 2012 how his approach to work at the IOC was guided by his life as a doctor. “From surgery I have got a much-needed sense of humility, of the uncertainty of life, of the frailty of every ambition ... And surgery teaches you to be systematic. It is like being a pilot, a profession full of checklists. Also, you have to be able to take tough decisions. For example, if you do not amputate, the patient will die."

Jacques Rogge was born in Ghent, Belgium, in 1942, the son of Suzanne and Charles Rogge, an engineer and sailor. A keen sportsman since his youth, he had been first taken out in a boat by his parents at the age of three. Rogge studied sports medicine at the University of Ghent, graduating as a doctor.

Having started in competition sailing with the Cadet dinghy, Rogge first represented his country as a sailor in the Finn Class – a single-handed boat – at the Olympic Games of 1968 in Mexico City. He would go on to compete at two further Olympiads, at Munich in 1972 and Montreal in 1976.

Although he did not win medals at any of the three events, he was 16 times Belgian champion and became president of the International Finn Association (IFA) from 1979 to 1981. His son Philippe followed in his footsteps, as IFA president from 1997 to 2005.

During his leadership of the Belgian team in 1980, Rogge resisted US pressure to boycott the Moscow Olympics because of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, commenting later: “We couldn’t accept that sport was being used as a weapon by Jimmy Carter.” Instead, he took a group of athletes under the Olympic banner, rather than the Belgian national flag.

Rogge was decisive in tackling the persistent abuse of unauthorised performance enhancers through cooperation with the World Anti-Doping Agency (Getty)
Rogge was decisive in tackling the persistent abuse of unauthorised performance enhancers through cooperation with the World Anti-Doping Agency (Getty)

Rogge retired from medicine and was appointed as the eighth president of the IOC in 2001. Following several years of investigations into an alleged “cash-for-votes” scandal, he was the ideal choice to take over the high-profile role from Juan Antonio Samaranch. Rogge, a quiet and resolute multilingual diplomat, was the perfect antidote to years of uncertainly.

Rogge oversaw the Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City in 2002, where he became the first IOC president to stay within the Olympic village, aiming to narrow the physical and psychological distance between athletes and IOC committee members.

Beyond the historic corruption scandal, Rogge faced other challenges during his term as president. He was decisive in tackling the persistent abuse of unauthorised performance enhancers through cooperation with the World Anti-Doping Agency. Its president, Witold Banka, said that Rogge “gave the agency his full and unquestioning support as he knew the importance of anti-doping for the ongoing success of sport. Without his strong leadership as an advocate for clean sport, it is unlikely Wada would have enjoyed the success it did in those early years as it managed to harmonise anti-doping across all sports and countries of the world.”

Rogge had long championed the idea of establishing a Youth Olympic Games for 14-18-year-old athletes, a dream which became a reality at the first such event in Singapore in 2010. Throughout his term of office he had successfully striven to restore the IOC’s finances. He handed over the baton in 2013 to a new president, Thomas Bach, who inherited a reinvigorated and financially healthy organisation.

Sebastian Coe, president of World Athletics, said: “I have a mountainous gratitude for his part in the seamless delivery of London 2012. No organising committee could have asked or received more. He was passionate about sport and all he achieved in sport and beyond was done with common decency, compassion and a level head.”

Rogge had latterly lived with Parkinson's disease and died in his home town of Deinze, in the region of Ghent.

He is survived by his wife Anne Bovijn, their son Philippe and daughter Caroline.

Jacques Rogge, doctor and sports administrator, born 2 May 1942, died 29 August 2021

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