(ATR) Considering he was a 16-time Belgian national champion in rugby, it’s no surprise that IOC Honorary President Jacques Rogge enjoys the rugged and physical nature of ice hockey.
The 77-year-old Rogge, who led the IOC as president from 2001 to 2013, and his wife Anne were guests of president René Fasel and the International Ice Hockey Federation at this past weekend’s final world championship games in Bratislava, Slovakia.
"Maybe something that will surprise you, I like the contact sports – I was a rugby player and there is some similarity between rugby and ice hockey," Rogge told Around the Rings during an intermission of the bronze medal contest between Russia and Czech Republic.
The three-time Olympian in sailing said that his passion for ice hockey grew throughout his IOC presidency and the game epitomizes everything that modern day sports entertainment should offer.
"You have a sport as such, and the competition as such, and also you have what I call a recreational aspect within the stadium," Rogge says. "The people participate with not only shouting and yelling, but also with the music and entertainment aspect and that’s what people want in all sports, to enjoy themselves."
Although one may not associate Belgium with the fast and physical game played on ice, Rogge is quick to point out his country’s often overlooked contribution to establishing and governing the sport.
"People are mostly short-sighted and don’t accept the fact that the international federation was created by a Belgian," Rogge says, referring to Henri van den Bulcke, who was one of the five founders of the IIHF in Paris in 1908, and served as president over two terms from 1912 to 1920.
"He created the federation, developed it and became European champion," he said. So there was a tradition from my country."
Rogge, whose IOC presidency included overseeing three Olympic Winter Games (2002, 2006, 2010) in which NHL players participated, believes a return of the league’s talent for Beijing 2022 and beyond is paramount. Rogge was a proponent that the IOC should cover the technical costs associated with having the NHL players at the Games.
"I believe truly that the Games will be better with the presence of the best hockey players," Rogge says. "When I was in my mandate, I did what I could to make sure that the NHL players would participate in the Games and I must say Rene Fasel did a big job also with that.
"I hope very positively for future Games with the presence of the NHL."
Fasel said it was "an honor for hockey" to once again have the presence of the former IOC president at the world championship.
"I invite him all the time and he loves to come," Fasel said.
Fasel, an IOC member since 1995, recounts a story from the 112th IOC Session in Moscow in July 2001 when Rogge was elected by his peers to succeed Juan Antonio Samaranch. The Belgian NOC president became the eighth president of the IOC, elected for an eight-year term on the second round of a secret ballot.
"I promised my vote to somebody else and said to him sorry Jacques I will not vote for you," Fasel said. "He was very surprised but said ‘René, fair enough'.
"When he was elected, he came to me and said ‘there were only three people telling me they would not vote for me, all the others said they would vote for me’ but there were 30 people who did not vote for him," Fasel explains. "I was one of the three who told him the truth.
"I was very surprised when he asked me to be the president of the coordination commission (for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics)," the veteran Swiss hockey chief said. "I asked him why and he said ‘because you tell the truth René, I trust you'."
Fasel worked closely with Rogge as an IOC Executive Board member from 2008 until the end of the Belgian’s presidency in September 2013.
Rogge said of Fasel: "You can see he loves sport, he knows sport very well, he is a good diplomat, he can solve problems and when you are in charge of the IOC with 30 federations you are lucky to find someone who can help you."
At Saturday’s semifinal game between Russia and Finland, Rogge and his wife Anne were seen by nearly 10,000 spectators during the ‘Kiss Cam’ segment projected on the large video screen above center ice.
"They tricked us already last year so we were prepared," Rogge said with a smile.
"People started shouting around me – I only had to give a little push to her with the elbow." Anne proceeded to give her husband a kiss on the cheek.
"And by the way, it is very agreeable to kiss your wife, that is an easy part of the job," he said.
Written and reported by Brian Pinelli in Bratislava, Slovakia
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