NEWS

Excess size, drug abuse, and iffy judges: Key issues facing 21st century Olympiads

Last month in Copenhagen, the World Anti-Doping Agency passed the world’s first general anti-doping code. Many critics say this is too little, too late, that you’re constantly chasing a problem that’s getting further and further away. How do you respond to that sort of criticism? This is a very negative attitude. Yes, it is a very serious problem; yes, we tackled it with renewed means and a new strategy, and a new alliance with the governments, but what’s the alternative? That we don’t do anything, that we stop, that we let them go, that we let them cheat? You know, it’s like security in society. I mean, am I going to blame Greece because it has really made major progress in dismantling November 17? If we were speaking about this a year ago, what could people have said? We would say, «Oh, we’ve never be able to solve this, let it go.» The «let it go» attitude is just unacceptable. We accept that doping will never totally disappear. But what we have to do is put in place as many means as possible and to reduce the evil to the lowest possible level. And we’re making major progress with the Copenhagen decision. How much of a danger do you think advances in genetic engineering pose for the future of Olympic sport? It is a danger, it is not an immediate danger, I can reassure you by saying that there is no athlete being cloned today. It is not the doomsday scenario that people describe… There are ways to test genetic engineering. And if you can test, you can penalize, and you can solve it. Pessimists speak of a five-year horizon, optimists speak about a 10-year horizon. No-growth Games Another of your stated priorities is to cap the growth of the Games. There are several sports up for the chopping block, the modern pentathlon and baseball [and softball]. What are the chances that Athens will be the last Olympics for these sports? It depends on the sports themselves. If they can materialize the changes that they have proposed, they will survive. If they cannot materialize the changes, they are in danger of being eliminated. Doesn’t the pressure to add new events, either for popularity or in terms of women, counteract this? Yes, there’s a lot of pressure to augment the Olympic program. But we took a very important decision in our general assembly in Mexico [November 2002] by deciding that we would cap the program at 28 sports and 300 events. Since 1896 and the Athens Games, the program has only grown, grown and grown and grown. For the first time in 107 years, we have decided to stop the growth of the program. The second decision we’ve taken is to review the program after each Games. There are about 15 sports outside of the program that desperately want to join; bowling, water-skiing, and so on. But these sports cannot get in because of the limits. So that’s a good reason to study the changeover. In terms of Beijing 2008, there have already been reports of huge government spending, and I’m wondering whether your push to cap the size of the Games will end in September 2004. The Beijing situation is a bit like the Athens situation. If you start with a city like Atlanta, where all the infrastructure is in place… the budget is going to be very low, because you just have the operational budget to cover. In Athens, you’ve indeed had a lot of construction, but you cannot say this is because of the Games. The Games have been an accelerator of these works, and the works have been concentrated around the Games. But Attiki Odos, or the Metro, or Spata, have not been built because of the Olympic Games. They were meant to be built, and then the Games came, and then the government said, «Hey, wait, let’s make sure that it’s finished by Games time, because we can use them.» But if you look at the operational budget of ATHOC, you have $1,896,000,000, and that is perfectly in line with the figures of Sydney, and with Atlanta. And these are the real figures. The rest is country or city development… So we’re not concerned with that. A matter of judgment The Salt Lake City controversy over figure skating has highlighted the role of judges in general, and the role of «artistic» sports in the Olympics calendar. Is this a positive trend, or is it worrisome, in your view? Those who have memory for old times know that judging issues have always existed. My team, Belgium, won the gold medal in soccer, but the whole Czech team walked away in the second half, because they did not agree with the referee!… Look at the controversies of the FIFA World Cup in Japan and Korea, with all the Italians saying, «This is a shame, we’ve been robbed,» and so on. Wherever needed, we have addressed the problem with the world federation. Boxing is a good example. We said to the federation that the judging is not good enough, and they came up with a new system, where you record the hits with a computer [which] has led to a general acceptance of the decisions. We did the same with the ISU [International Skating Union]. It’s an ongoing process. You will never, never abolish controversy, especially not with modern television techniques, where the viewer can have a closeup, slow-motion, 10 times replay action, whereas the referee has to judge in the wink of a second… But I think the federations have reacted well.