The former president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Jacques Rogge, is being remembered around the world for his commitment to sport, youth and helping to guarantee the survival of the Paralympic games.
Rogge, who died on Sunday aged 79, was elected president shortly after the successful Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, for which he was the IOC’s coordination commission chairman, and stayed in the role for the maximum 12 years under new rules he helped pass.
He brought a steady hand after the Salt Lake City bribery scandal, was always approachable, and maintained an open-door policy as much as possible.
His legacy is the role he played in taking the Olympic movement away from its reputation of grandiose elitism towards one of equality, focussed on the youth of the world.
In 2010, his vision and commitment to youth was realised with the first edition of the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) held in Singapore – the culmination of a dream that started with a Belgium youth festival in his home country, which grew to be Europe-wide, before being adopted by the IOC as part of its regular agenda.
The YOG have been held every two years since – both summer and winter editions — with the exception of Senegal 2020, which was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is those Games that have seen trials of mixed-relay events in numerous sports, exhibitions of break-dancing, skateboarding and 3×3 basketball that have all now been adopted in the Olympic program.
“First and foremost, Jacques loved sport and being with athletes, and he transmitted this passion to everyone who knew him. His joy in sport was infectious,” IOC president Thomas Bach said.
“He was an accomplished president, helping to modernise and transform the IOC. He will be remembered particularly for championing youth sport and for inaugurating the Youth Olympic Games.
“He was also a fierce proponent of clean sport, and fought tirelessly against the evils of doping. The entire Olympic Movement will deeply mourn the loss of a great friend and a passionate fan of sport.”
He was not just a fan of sport, he was a three-time Olympic sailor competing in Mexico 1968, Munich 1972 and Vancouver 1976. Rogge also represented Belgium in rugby and was a 16-time national champion before focussing on his professional life as an orthopaedic surgeon.
Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates said Rogge’s strong commitment to the Sydney 2000 Games stemmed from his recollections of competing against Australians during his own Olympic career.
“He had a particular affection for Australia having competed against so many Australians in sailing, and we had a great affection for him as chairman of the IOC coordination commission for Sydney,” Coates said.
“He must take great credit for the success of the Sydney Olympics.”
While waiting for the Olympic flame to be rowed up Lake Geneva ahead of the opening ceremony of the Lausanne 2020 winter Youth Olympic Games, Coates was seated next to Rogge on the balcony of the Olympic Museum where they shared memories of Sydney 2000.
“Back in 1993, my then wife and I took four of our children to Europe for a holiday and we ended up staying with Jacques and [his wife] Anne at their home.
“And he just loved kids, they were from 17 down to about 11 or something, and I remember him out in the backyard kicking the football around and that sort of thing.
“That’s how he always was with athletes and Olympians, he just loved mixing with athletes and younger people.
“He was a man of great integrity, and it was a privilege to work with him.”
Rogge was also deeply committed to the Paralympic movement.
In 2017, he was awarded the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) highest honour, the Paralympic Order, for helping to keep the games alive by signing numerous partnership agreements that provided the organisation with financial stability and a guaranteed future.
“It is certain to say that without Jacques and the IOC’s support the Paralympic Games would not have grown into the sporting spectacle it is today,” then-IPC president Philip Craven said at the time.
“He saved the IPC from financial disaster and, throughout his IOC presidency, provided assistance to make us a far better and stronger organisation.
“The Paralympic movement will forever be grateful to the support of Jacques Rogge.”
Shortly after stepping down from the IOC presidency, Rogge was appointed by the United Nations as Special Envoy for Youth Refugees and Sport to develop the use of sport as an empowerment tool for young, displaced people and refugees.
The IOC said it would fly the Olympic flag at half-mast at Olympic House, at The Olympic Museum and all its other properties for five days as a mark of respect for Rogge, with a public memorial to be held later in the year.
Rogge is survived by his wife Anne, his son, daughter and two grandchildren.