Lausanne welcomes Rogge

Jacques Rogge receiving the key to IOC headquarters in Lausanne Keystone

Authorities in Lausanne hope the city will have as close a relationship with the new president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, as it did with his predecessor, Juan Antonio Samaranch.

This content was published on July 20, 2001 minutes

Samaranch was unable to attend Friday's symbolic handing over of the keys to the IOC's lakeside headquarters after he was admitted to hospital on Tuesday night for extreme fatigue. But observers say his influence will continue under Rogge`s presidency.

Rogge himself has indicated that he will carry on where Samaranch left off. "My daily and major preoccupation, my challenge at the helm of the IOC is to maintain the unity of the Olympic movement and not to allow divisions," he said after taking office.

Samaranch helped put Lausanne on the global map. If the capital of canton Vaud is better known as a world capital of sport, it is largely a result of the efforts of Samaranch, who was the driving force in having the city named "Olympic Capital".

The IOC has been based on the banks of Lake Geneva since the First World War. It would now take an extraordinary set of circumstances for the organisation to relocate, and no one in the Olympic movement would publicly countenance such an idea.

IOC Director General François Carrard told swissinfo that Samaranch's role cannot be underestimated. "There were offers from other cities. But from day one, he was determined that Lausanne should be confirmed as the Olympic headquarters."

Samaranch built a new headquarters and a magnificent Olympic Museum, and won semi-diplomatic status for IOC employees.

During his 21-year presidency, the 81-year-old Spaniard led the IOC from near bankruptcy to its current status as a rich and prestigious body. As it grew, Lausanne benefited economically.

"Around a quarter of all overnight stays in Lausanne's hotels are because of the IOC or the international sports federations based here," says Jean-Jacques Schilt, head of the city's government.

"The IOC makes a big contribution to our economy, and has helped to boost our image. Lausanne is known around the world thanks to the IOC," Schilt told swissinfo.

Touchy moment

But the marriage has not been without its difficult moments. Carrard admits to "ups and downs" over the years, but he and Schilt agree that relations are now thriving.

One difficult moment occurred a few months ago when city authorities, feeling the need to recognise Samaranch's contribution to Lausanne, decided not to grant him the city's highest civic award, the "Bourgeoisie d'Honneur".

Schilt and his government colleagues, fearing the local parliament would block the award because of Samaranch's role in the Franco regime in Spain, gave him a lesser honour.

"It did seem a little petty and ridiculous not to grant him the Bourgeoisie d'Honneur, but that's local politics. It hasn't really soured relations, and doesn't affect the long-term relationship," Carrard says.

Defrosting public opinion

City authorities, concerned about the Samaranch succession, engaged in energetic lobbying of IOC chiefs in the run-up to the Moscow vote, and set up a working group last year to promote its image as the Olympic Capital, particularly among the local population, whose view of the IOC has been frostier than that of the local government.

The city authorities have tried to attract international sports federations and major sporting events to Lausanne, and to improve the city's infrastructure, to keep the IOC satisfied.

Rogge's election as Samaranch's successor makes the notion of relocating even more remote. He has been quoted as saying that the IOC will remain in Lausanne, and that the Swiss city is the most logical place for the permanent seat of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Of the five candidates in the running for the president's job, he was the one considered to have the closest relationship with the city.

New home

And the Belgian surgeon, seen as the presidential candidate most likely to ensure continuity, has already given the right signals. Almost immediately after he was elected last Monday in Moscow, he announced that he would move to Lausanne and live there full-time.

"It's very important that the IOC president resides in Lausanne, because it means all the important meetings will happen here," Schilt says.

"Mr Rogge appreciates Lausanne, and I'm sure the IOC is going to continue to have excellent relations with the city," he told swissinfo.

by Roy Probert

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