The Paradox of a Paragon of Virtue

Sally Jenkins – The Washington Post

Copyright The Washington Post
August 22, 2008
I am Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, and ordinarily I am a man of perfect repose. My eyeglasses are without a smudge; my hair is impervious. As the American author Mark Twain once wrote, “The weakest of all weak things is a virtue which has not been tested in the fire.” I am supremely confident of my virtue. It has been tested in many regattas.
For years now I have worked tirelessly to fashion the Olympics into an event in which it’s possible to completely avoid ethical responsibility. I’ve used my skills as a yachtsman, member of the Belgian knighthood, and an impeccable wearer of blazers and boat shoes, to avoid a principled stand on any subject. It therefore grieves me to say that 10 days into the Beijing Games, I have met with a matter of the utmost seriousness: the unfortunate expressions of joy by Jamaican runner Usain Bolt, after winning the 100- and 200-meter dashes. This is truly an Olympic crisis.
It’s one thing for the Chinese government to jail dissidents, to forge the passports of underage gymnasts, and to set up official protest zones and then arrest anyone who applied to use them. These are matters that I met with disciplined silence, or as I so adroitly put it, with “quiet diplomacy.” But I cannot ignore Bolt’s disturbing spontaneity. Him, I feel compelled to rebuke.
“That’s not the way we perceive being a champion,” I said, after Bolt had completed his unprecedented feat of world records in both of the sprint events.
I was so scandalized as Bolt shimmied, posed, and chanted, “I am number one!” that when reporters came to ask me for a comment on his historical accomplishment, I could not recognize it without adding my personal criticism. I offered him some sound and useful advice on how to conduct himself, a product of my mature consideration after so many years as an Olympic athlete myself, sailing in the Finn class.
“I think he should show more respect for his competitors and shake hands, give a tap on the shoulder to the other ones immediately after the finish and not make gestures like the one he made in the 100 meters,” I said.
May I offer a further suggestion? For lessons in comportment, Bolt might study how our IOC representatives behaved when they attended one of the most important events of the Beijing Games, staged by a vital corporate partner: the McDonald’s build-a-hamburger contest.
Some people might ask what separates Bolt from other athletes who have celebrated unselfconsciously here. American sprinter Shawn Crawford said: “If you know you put in the work, you’re going to dance and celebrate and pop some bottles. I don’t think that’s disrespectful.”
How is he different, for instance, from the U.S. women’s beach volleyball team, which shrieked, hugged each other, cavorted, and fell about in the sand for several minutes, before congratulating its opponents?
Isn’t it obvious? They are women in bikinis.
This is not the first time in my distinguished career with the IOC that I have taken a principled stand. As an Olympic delegate, I fought with the energy of a thousand suns to persuade the Belgian authorities to go to the Moscow Games in 1980, and to accept their obvious rigging of at least five track and field events.
But it’s in the last seven years as IOC president, as I presided over a 40 percent increase in revenue, that I’ve truly shown my Olympic character. At the 2004 Games in Athens, I resolutely stood by Iran when its flag bearer, Arash Miresmaeili, refused to fight an Israeli in judo. Earlier this year, I defended the Beijing organizers when Hollywood director Steven Spielberg withdrew as artistic director of the Opening Ceremonies over China’s repeated broken human rights promises, such as detentions and forced demolitions of homes for stadiums. “Spielberg’s absence will not hurt the Games,” I declared, with my clarion voice. “The Beijing Games are much stronger than individuals.”
I’ve praised the Chinese organizers at every opportunity, remarking on the “excellent preparation of the Games” by their bulldozers and cleansings. I proudly cooperated in censorship, from the obfuscation of their air quality problems, to the gagging of athletes on the subjects of politics and religion. In July, I announced that, “for the first time, foreign media will be able to report freely and publish their work freely in China.” Meanwhile, my people were arriving at a secret deal with officials to allow Internet censorship, without the knowledge of the media or the rest of the IOC.
All of these actions should be taken into account when the IOC decides whether to reelect me as president after the Beijing Games. As I said last month in an interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur, the question will be, “Have I been able to contribute to the [Olympic] values?”
To sum up, over the years I have been an ally to the Soviet Union, Iran and China, and now I have demonstrated that I am not afraid to take on a Jamaican. My expressions of moral leadership will hopefully win me reelection, but if not, anyone who is thinking of turning me out of office should consider who they would replace me with in the gallery of freedom fighters that is the IOC. As Twain also wrote, “I am clean — artificially — like the rest.”
With my public stance against Bolt, my legacy, I feel, is complete. You might apply to me an observation once made by the American civil rights scholar W.E.B. DuBois: perhaps no one “ever took himself and his own perfectness with such disconcerting seriousness as the modern white man.”
As for Bolt, something else DuBois once wrote, rhetorically, applies to him. “How does it feel to be a problem?” he asked.

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