|Wednesday, March 19
The price of war could be high for the Olympics
By Tom Farrey
In the coming days, in what is expected to be the most lethal air strike on any country in the history of war, more than 3,000 precision-guided bombs and missiles from U.S. forces will rain down on Iraq. While the Pentagon is keeping secret its target list, the Olympic headquarters in Baghdad is expected to be one of the first buildings reduced to rubble.
A careless rendering of death on the innocent?
Only if Uday Hussein packs his first-floor prison with athletes, and throws away the key.
Which is plausible, of course.
Saddam Hussein's eldest son is a verifiable sadist and criminal. Former athletes and associates who say they have been tortured by the president of the Iraqi National Olympic Committee claim the high-walled compound with gun turrets is little more than the home for his black-market businesses, bodyguards and a para-military unit he oversees. It's his personal office -- hence its possible destruction via U.S. firepower.
Should one of those bombs also land on Uday's head, wherever he's hiding in Iraq, it will have solved one big problem for the International Olympic Committee. No need for any further investigation by its ethics commission if Uday and his family are no longer around to run everything, including sports, in that fear-laden republic. But it won't fix everything for Jacques Rogge, the overwhelmed IOC president.
Rogge has more to lose with a war than the commissioner of any U.S. sports league. Bud Selig canceled the season-opening series in Japan between the Oakland A's and Seattle Mariners. Myles Brand considered postponing NCAA Tournament games. But one year from this summer, Rogge is supposed to bring the world together in a leaky, disorganized country, Greece, that's about as far away from Baghdad as New York is from Miami.
It's a short plane ride away for any Middle East terrorist angered by the invasion.
And, potentially, a quick descent into hell for the Olympic movement.
"It's difficult to speak about the situation in Athens," Rogge said. "The war, if any, will definitely have an effect on sports."
Rogge spoke with ESPN.com last week at the World Congress of Sports, at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. Just a few blocks away at the United Nations, the other august body that aspires to bring the world together, the world was tearing apart. Decorum gave way to anger. Diplomats insulted each other. Panic filled the hallways. The Bush Administration, for better or worse, had thumbed its nose at the international community. Hatred of America had reached a new level.
Rogge is a surgeon, a famously aggressive breed, but his demeanor is that of another kind of doctor, a psychiatrist. The voice is gentle and steady. His words are selected carefully. His inset, half-moon eyes exude calm and encourage trust.
So he asks us to trust him on this one: Athens will not be another Munich.
"The IOC will take all measures needed to protect the athletes, coaches and officials," Rogge said. "We'll work out all possible and needed solutions with the (Greek) organizers."
The host country does not inspire confidence. The upcoming Olympics will require more anti-terrorism planning than any event in the history of sports, but the Greeks only got around to hiring a security firm last week -- after a Rogge reprimand. The contract with a San Diego-based firm was for $277 million, about $60 million less than what the firm originally said would take to do the job right. Rogge, now the team player, attributes the price reduction to "normal commercial bargaining," not security on the cheap.
Again, we'll take Rogge at his word. For his word has been pretty good in his two years at the IOC helm.
Rogge pushed the International Skating Union to address its judging corruption at Salt Lake City, and supported the granting of second gold medals to the Canadian pair because it "brought justice." He's doing more than any U.S. league commissioner to attack the doping problem that causes athletes to feel the only way they can compete is to cheat.
Rogge's rival for the IOC top job was Dick Pound, a straight-talking Canadian lawyer who now handles Olympic drug testing as head of the World Anti-Doping Agency. "All I can tell you is that when Jacques asked me to stay on, I told him I would only do it if he was 100 percent behind (WADA's efforts)," Pound said. "Because otherwise we'd end up in fistfights. He said, 'No, this is a priority for me.' "
Last week, with Rogge threatening to ban any country from hosting the Olympics if it failed to sign on, an amazing 73 nations and 65 sports federations agreed to the first worldwide doping code. All athletes -- including NBA players who are candidates for national Olympic teams -- will be subject to random, out-of-competition testing for drugs that are on a single, agreed-upon list.
With Iraq, Rogge showed he wants to protect athletes even when it's politically delicate.
For a decade, rumors swirled in the Arab world about Uday Hussein torturing athletes for nothing more than losing games. Samaranch never investigated. True, no outside organization filed a formal complaint for the one-time Franco fascist to act upon. But neither was Samaranch asked to jump into the issue when the world was choosing sides on a divisive war in Iraq, as Rogge was when a human rights group funded by the U.S. Congress, Indict, sent its letter to the IOC in December.
Pound nudged Rogge again, and the IOC Ethics Commission launched an investigation.
"We have a vision of sport that is based on ethical values," Rogge explained in New York. "Fair play. Brotherhood. Respect for the rules. No doping. No violence. No discrimination. Basically, torture is something that is unacceptable, even outside sport. So we cannot tolerate this in sport."
Rogge made clear that the IOC probe goes beyond torture to include Uday's alleged misuse of his Olympic affiliation, which he has used to aid his personal businesses.
"Everything matters," Rogge said. "If other issues can be found, of course we will act on everything that is not ethical. It will be a source of investigation."
Such conviction might be easy to dispense when Uday could be dead within a week. But that sense of moral imperative is good to hear anyway from the head of the IOC.
Now let's hope terrorists have short memories.
Tom Farrey is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.