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Rogge: Olympics can speed change

  • Story Highlights
  • Olympic chief says Beijing Games will be significant force for good in China
  • IOC President Jacques Rogge in Beijing for one-year countdown to Olympics
  • Rogge said his main concern was the environment and particularly air pollution
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BEIJING, China (Reuters) -- Olympic chief Jacques Rogge thinks the Beijing Olympics will be a significant force for good in China, but cannot be expected to resolve all the issues facing the country.

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IOC supremo Rogge said he "could not be more happy" about the state of preparations in Beijing.

The President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said, however, that it was "absolutely legitimate" for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and human-rights groups to bring attention to their causes both now and at Games time.

"We believe the Games are going to move ahead the agenda of the social and human rights as far as possible, the Games are going to be a force for good. But the Games are not a panacea," Rogge told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

This week's start of the one-year countdown to the Games has brought with it the release of several reports from pressure groups, many calling on the IOC to demand action on issues such as media freedom and political prisoners.

"One should not forget that we are a sports organization," Rogge said. "We are not a government, we are not the representative of all the NGOs of the world.

"We respect their point of view, we stand for human rights, we stand for strict social values, but we are only a sports organization."

Rogge said he "could not be more happy" about the state of preparations in Beijing, especially in the fundamental aspects of running the Games such as venue construction.

"They are well ahead of schedule, the infrastructure is there, there is still a little bit of work to do on the Olympic Stadium, but that will be ready in March," he said.

"Since I've been involved in Games preparations, which is since Sydney, they are the best prepared of all," he added.

As Beijing witnessed another day of heavy smog, Rogge said his main concern was the environment and particularly air pollution in the Chinese capital.

But he was confident that measures undertaken by the Beijing government to rid the city of pollution over the last few years and special measures in August next year would deliver clean air.

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"There is a positive trend, and I really do hope and believe that this positive trend will continue," he said. "They still have a full year to run. I have confidence that their strategy will yield success. I'm optimistic for Games time."

Indeed, Rogge hopes a change in the way the Chinese approach environmental issues will be one of the "intangible" legacies of the Games.

"The intangible is the acceptance of procedures, norms and standards that were not here before, especially in the field of the environment," he said.

A sporting legacy would come as a result of the Sport for All program in China, a "mind-blowing" project that was reaching "hundreds of millions" of people, he said.

He also foresaw benefits for the Olympic movement. "We are bringing the Olympics to one-fifth of mankind, we have an education program based on sport and Olympic values in no less than 500,000 schools, we are hoping 400 million children will benefit from this," he said.

One of the possible blights of any sporting event in the modern era is doping, and Rogge said the series of scandals at the Tour de France was a timely reminder for the IOC.

"I expect some positive cases in Beijing, that would be the sign that our testing is accurate, that our testing is efficient and that we are cleaning up the Games and that we are kicking out the cheats," he said. "There are still some loopholes, but one has to say that it is extremely difficult to cheat and to get away with it."

The Belgian, who competed in sailing at three Olympic Games, clearly has little time for discussions over whether the U.S. or China will top the medals table next August.

"The spirit of the Olympic Games ... is not about nations, it's not about continents, it's not about supremacy," he said. "It's about the pursuit of excellence by individuals who train very hard for that and do that within the Olympic spirit of fair play, brotherhood."

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Asked how he would like the Beijing Games to go down in history, the 65-year-old orthopedic surgeon said: "I would like the Games to be held in peace, in maximum security, with the least number of doping cases possible. And definitely with great athletic prowess, with great champions emerging, because that's the great magic of the Games.

"And if at the same time we can have a situation where the world at large discovers China, and its values and its assets, then I will be a very happy man." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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