Thursday, May 5, 2011

IOC's Rogge says right thing, eventually, about bin Laden

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Hours after Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. special forces in Pakistan, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge was asked about the impact of bin Laden's death on security at the Olympic Games.

"What happened to Mr. bin Laden is a political issue on which I do not wish to comment," Rogge said to reporters at a sports conference in Doha, Qatar.

Mister bin Laden? A political issue?

Did one of the world's most influential sports leaders really say that? How could anyone trivialize the elimination of such an evil mass murderer in those terms? Especially someone who is as ostensibly wise to the ways of the world as Rogge, 69, who has been IOC president for nearly 10 years?

Here is a man who is called upon to comment on many issues and news events, some of which couldn't be more political, such as his organization's decision to stage the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing under China's repressive regime. He has spoken of tragedies around the world, including those with political roots, such as the terrorist bombings in London in 2005, the day after that city won the right to host the 2012 Summer Olympics.

And since when has "a political issue" been off limits for the IOC? The two Koreas? The two Germanys? Sarajevo? Rightly banning South Africa due to apartheid? From French-Russian shenanigans in figure skating to taking the 2016 Olympics to South America, if the IOC couldn't talk politics, it might fall mute.

But on Monday, hours after the raid that killed the world's most wanted man, Rogge couldn't provide reporters with even one sentence about the death of bin Laden — except, of course, to offer the stunningly inappropriate dignity of calling him Mister.

Rogge isn't usually this afraid to speak his mind. He took on women's Olympic ice hockey players, of all people, in Vancouver in 2010, threatening that he might have to eventually shut down their sport if some of their games continued to be lopsided.

A year and a half earlier, Rogge criticized the demonstrative celebrations of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt after he won the 100 and 200 meters in Beijing — and he didn't even bother to call him Mr. Bolt.

Rogge's bin Laden comment hit the Internet, of course. There was speculation about why he would pull his punches on this particular issue. Two days passed. By Wednesday afternoon U.S. time, when questioned about his words by USA TODAY, Rogge finally, appropriately, had more to say.

"I was asked a question about the impact of bin Laden's death on security around the Olympic Games, and that is the question I answered," Rogge told this newspaper exclusively through his spokesman, Mark Adams.

"My willingness to let political leaders comment on the larger impact of his death should not be taken as a commentary on bin Laden. Like everyone in the civilized world, I was deeply shocked and sickened by the events of Sept. 11, just as I have been deeply saddened by every terrorist act before or since then. I have seen the effects of terrorism at first hand at the 1972 Munich Games, where I competed as an athlete (for Belgium), and again in the 1996 Atlanta Games.

"Needless to say, I wholeheartedly condemn terrorists and their vile acts — it is the antithesis of everything the Olympic movement stands for."

It might have been two days late, but the "Mister" was gone and the passion was there.

Before receiving Rogge's expanded remarks, I made calls to five of the Olympic Games' biggest sponsors to see what they thought of the earlier words of their business partner. American companies all, were they concerned, even a little? Or have they become such sycophants for the IOC that, principle be damned, they'd never risk angering Rogge — even over something so tied to the well-being of their nation as the death of the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks?

It's the latter, unanimously. Given all afternoon to respond, three corporations never bothered: Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Dow Chemical. Representatives from Procter & Gamble and Visa at least emailed back, but both said simply that they had nothing to say.

What a window this was into the world of U.S. corporate acquiescence toward the IOC. The irony Wednesday was that while the corporations were so afraid to say anything that could potentially rock the IOC boat, the man in charge, Jacques Rogge, said exactly the right thing.


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