The hand of outgoing president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, could be detected in the election of Jacques Rogge as the new head of the Lausanne-based International Olympic Committee.
Rogge, considered a safe pair of hands who had the tacit backing of Samaranch, was the favourite to succeed the Spaniard, but his overwhelming victory in only the second round of voting at the IOC session in Moscow took many by surprise.
The Belgian surgeon, a former world yachting champion, defeated Kim Un-yong of South Korea, Dick Pound of Canada, Pal Schmitt of Hungary and Anita DeFrantz of the United States.
Among those congratulating Rogge on his election were representatives of Lausanne, the Olympic capital, and canton Vaud. In a statement, they said they were ready to do everything possible to ensure that the close cooperation established with his predecessor continued. Lausanne is one of the cities seeking to become the headquarters of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Rogge, who speaks five languages, will be the eighth president in the IOC's 107-year history. He is the second Belgian and seventh European to head the organisation. He will serve an eight-year term, after which he can seek a four-year extension to his mandate.
Analysts say Samaranch, who is stepping down after 21 years at the head of the Olympic movement, regards Rogge as a guarantee of continuity and sound management. It is not yet clear if he intends to adopt a more reformist approach than his predecessor.
"It won't be easy being the successor of Juan Antonio Samaranch," says René Fasel, one of five Swiss members of the IOC and a colleague of Rogge's on the IOC medical commission.
"But I know Jacques and I know his capacity to listen. I would advise him to be his own man," said Fasel, who voted for Dick Pound in the ballot for president. "I'm confident he can build a consensus."
Unlike Pound and Kim, the other frontrunners in the race, Rogge had made few political enemies, and, unlike Kim, was not tarnished by the bribery scandal surrounding Salt Lake City's bid for the 2002 Winter Games.
Despite only joining the IOC in 1991, he became a member of the executive board in 1998, and heads the European Olympic Committees. He has been the IOC coordinator of the 2000 Sydney Olympics and 2004 Athens Games, as well as vice chairman of the IOC's anti-doping panel.
Allegations of corruption
The election took place in the same Moscow hall where Samaranch had been elected in 1980. Since then, the 81-year-old Catalan has taken the Olympics from near-bankruptcy and political divisions to an immensely powerful organisation. Nonetheless in recent times the IOC has been rocked by allegations of corruption.
Looking to the future, Rogge is faced with a number challenges. The first may arrive in the form of embarrassing revelations during the trial in Utah of former Salt Lake City bid executives indicted in connection with the bribery scandal. Proceedings are due to get under way on July 30.
The next two summer games - in Athens in 2004 and in Beijing in 2008 - also have the potential to give Rogge headaches; the former because of doubts about whether the facilities will be ready in time, the second because of concerns of human rights abuses by the Chinese government.
During his mandate, the new IOC chief will also have the task of renegotiating television rights with the big American channels, making the costly and at times still amateurish IOC administration more cost-effective and accountable, and changing the unwieldy Games themselves without upsetting the international sports federations.
"One of his biggest challenges will be maintaining unity - between the sports federations, the national Olympic committees and between the different cultures," says René Fasel, who is also president of the International Ice-Hockey Federation.
Finally, Rogge's biggest problem may be the shadow that his predecessor casts over him. Samaranch, as honorary life president, can sit in on IOC executive meetings, and while he will not be able to vote, his influence will be all-pervasive.
"Juan Antonio will be ready to help if Jacques needs him, but he will be smart enough to stay in the background. I don't think he'll interfere," Fasel says.
by Roy Probert
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