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Philip Hersh: IOC's Rogge surprisingly bullish in bear market

Jacques Rogge ISTANBUL -- In the midst of the global Olympic crisis, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge is surprisingly upbeat about both the financing of the next four Olympic Games and of the IOC itself.

In fact, he sounded like a lead character in Voltaire’s famous satire, "Candide –- or Optimism," a man who famously denies a series of catastrophes by saying, "All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds."

Rogge’s analysis flies in the face of widely reported concerns about sponsorship problems for the London 2012 Summer Games, Olympic Village financing issues for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games and problems for the Sochi 2014 Winter Games related to the massive reduction in Russia’s financial fortunes caused by the drop in oil prices. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has committed $12 billion for development related to the Sochi Games.

"I have received assurances from Vancouver, London and Sochi that their finances are secure," Rogge said Friday, after addressing the general assembly of the European Olympic Committees.

The candidate cities for 2016 are saying the same thing -- they are not concerned about financing for the Games of 2014 and 2016.

Rogge’s primary reaction to the crisis was to insist that there be no enlargement of the Summer Olympics in terms of sports, sports events or numbers of athletes and coaches.

The IOC has capped the Summer Games at 28 sports and 10,500 athletes. There are only 26 sports on the program for London, but two could be added for 2016 and beyond at the 2009 IOC annual meeting.

Baseball and softball (both eliminated after 2008), karate, squash, rugby sevens, golf and roller sports are fighting to gain admission.

"There is an underground swell of people saying, 'Why stop at 28 sports?' Why not 30? Why not 32?' " Rogge said.

"In an economic boom, if there are resources that can be committed, it’s OK to grow and have bigger Games. It is not a wise thing to do in a period of credit crunch."

Gilbert Felli, the IOC executive director for the Olympic Games, said that since the Beijing Games, international sports federations have asked for the addition of 29 new events to sports already on the program.  There were 302 events at the 2008 Summer Games.

Rogge had told the assembly that contrary to reports in some media, there is "no danger" for the financing of Sochi.

"We have received very strong reassurances from the government that the funding is committed and is in place," he said.

Rogge also told the assembly the IOC’s own finances are solid as a result of conservative investment that does not include any "toxic or exotic products.  We have never invested in subprime, and we have spread our assets into seven different banks, and we have kept them as liquid as possible."

The IOC has a net loss of three of its 12 big-bucks global sponsors, most recently Johnson & Johnson.  Other dropouts: Kodak, ManuLife and Lenovo -- but Acer immediately replaced Lenovo in the information technology category.

Rogge said the revenues from global sponsorship (the TOP program) in the 2009-12 period would be about $900 million, while the last quadrennium brought in $866 million from TOP.  He held out limited hope that a 10th sponsor would be added and noted that three of the current nine already have committed for the 2013-16 period.

He also said the greatest negative impact on Olympic sports from the financial crisis probably would be on sponsorships at the grassroots level, including sponsors for sports clubs and national sports federations. He also worried about levels of grass-roots funding in countries –- unlike the United States -– where governments make substantial contributions.

"Ticket sales for competitions might diminish," Rogge said in his address. "Although this is contradicted, and I am glad to say, by the ticket sales for Vancouver that went very well, but this is the Olympic Games.

"Today, governments are bailing out banks with billions of dollars. I do hope this will have no negative repercussions on the funding of sport."

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Jacques Rogge addresses guests after receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Istanbul for his work in sports and the health of athletes. Credit: Ali Ozluer / AFP/Getty Images

 
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