The President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Jacques Rogge, was in Zurich on Thursday, where he paid a visit to FIFA headquarters. There, he signed an agreement with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter designed to establish effective cooperation between FIFA and the IOC/EOC (European Olympic Committee) with regards to European issues.
President of the IOC since 2001, the 67-year-old Belgian competed in yachting events at three Olympic Games (1968, 1972 and 1976) and also represented his country at rugby. Before that, the Ghent native played a lot of football in his youth and remains a fervent advocate of the beautiful game. After putting pen to paper, Rogge agreed to grant an exclusive interview to FIFA.com, in which he discussed the notion of the specificity of sport and the importance of collaboration between the IOC and FIFA, while also reminiscing on his days as an amateur footballer.
FIFA.com: Mr. Rogge, you competed in yachting events at three Olympic Games and represented your country at rugby, but much less is known about your interest in football.
Jacques Rogge: Like every youngster everywhere in the world, I started playing football in the street, which is what kids did at the time. Then I played at secondary school, but that was a bit strange because there were walls in the playground, so we used to play with ricochets like in billiards, which made things interesting. After that, I was in the team at the University of Ghent, where I played right-back. What's funny is that the team's left-back was none other than Michel d'Hooghe, who is now Chairman of FIFA's Medical Committee and a member of the Executive Committee. After that, I dedicated myself to yachting and rugby and now I only play football in the garden with my grandchildren.
What is your favourite football memory?
I remember Mexico 1986. Belgium finished fourth at the FIFA World Cup, which despite everything is pretty exceptional given that we're a small country with just 10 million inhabitants. In 1980, we also reached the final of the European Championship. Unfortunately, the national team is no longer at quite the same level, but football is cyclical and you can be at the trough of the wave for five or ten years and then climb back up. Either way, it's still by far the most popular sport in Belgium.
The IOC has long been an advocate of the 'specificity of sport'. Can you explain to us why you think sport should benefit from a separate status?
Contrary to what a lot of politicians think, sport isn't just an economic activity. It generates a lot of money but that's not its goal. Its ultimate purpose is social; it's about improving the health and education of youngsters. And this social role can only be defended if sport is accorded specificity. Otherwise, we fall into the general laws of the free market - free circulation of goods, services and financial flows. We need the financial resources to keep everything going, but that mustn't be the final goal. It's just a means to an end.
What do you expect to gain from Article 165 of the Treaty of Lisbon, which opens the door to the specificity of sport?
It's a very important article. The inclusion of this article in the Treaty of Lisbon is already the culmination of a long struggle carried out by the whole of sport together: the IOC, international associations and national Olympic committees. I remember in particular attending a meeting with President Blatter at 10 Downing Street, during which we wanted to convince the British Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, of the specific nature of sport. To bring about the notion of the specificity of sport, first of all we needed a legal basis for sport in treaties, which is something that hadn't existed before. But now we need this treaty to be ratified.
Two years ago, in an interview with the French daily Le Monde, you declared yourself broadly favourable to the free movement of workers, but not without limits. Could you explain your thoughts on the subject?
Sport has its own specific nature in terms of identity and social impact. If a club is inundated with foreign players or foreign athletes, there is a risk of that drying up the recruitment of local youngsters, because if the youngsters know they have no chance of getting into the team, they'll be less inclined to play sport. Therefore we need to make sure that players brought through the ranks at a club can also one day get a place on the team at that club.
There are discussions at the moment surrounding the Olympic football tournaments. What do you see as football's place at the Olympic Games?
Football has a very important place at the Olympic Games and it's very popular there. We believe that the standard of the teams must be as high as possible. We're satisfied with the current system, with players under 23 years of age and three older players, as that has already proved its worth. Because of that, we hope to change it as little as possible.
Do you think the collaboration between FIFA and the IOC is working?
We collaborate very closely with FIFA in various domains, whether it be in purely sporting terms or in terms of the relations between sport and politics. The IOC and FIFA work together a lot on the notion of the autonomy of sport and the protection of national associations, Olympic committees and international associations from all governmental or state interference that is incompatible with our values.