Jacques Rogge, orthopaedic surgeon and former Olympic yachtsman, is the favourite to win the race for the most prestigious job in world sport when Juan Antonio Samaranch retires as IOC president after 21 years at the top next month.
But winning the vote of all International Olympic Committee (IOC) members in Moscow on July 16 will be no routine operation for the 59-year-old Rogge, who competed at the 1968, 1972 and 1976 Olympics.
South Korean politician Kim Un-yong, a 70-year-old former United Nations General Assembly delegate, is expected to make Rogge sweat in the race to become the first new IOC president since the days of the Cold War and Olympic boycotts.
Being IOC president is one of the most attractive jobs on the planet. In addition to organising the Games, the president travels around the world mixing with heads of state as a roving ambassador for sport.
Now that Samaranch has decided to give up the job as he heads towards his 81st birthday there has been a real scramble for the position with five candidates in the vote.
A new era in the Olympic movement is set to begin.
Kim’s presence as a major player in the race despite a warning in the 1999 Salt Lake City bribery scandal says a huge amount about his influence in the sports world. The South Korean is president of the General Association of Sports Federations.
Seasoned Olympic observers believe Kim would not have put forward his name if he did not feel he could win.
Dick Pound, who has helped to turn the Olympics into a commercial success in the last two decades as the IOC’s marketing supremo, is the third heavyweight figure.
But the Canadian lawyer is not expected to make it to the final round of voting.
Former U.S. Olympic rower Anita DeFrantz, the only woman in the race, and Hungary’s former Olympic fencer Pal Schmitt are not expected to figure highly in the vote.
Rogge, who represented his country at rugby as well as winning a world title in sailing, has made an impressive rise through the ranks of the IOC since he joined the organisation 10 years ago.
Described as a “dashing doctor” in rare praise from the IOC’s fiercest critic, author Andrew Jennings, the towering Rogge has won many friends in the organisation through his diplomacy and ability to speak a clutch of languages fluently.
He has brought his medical expertise to the IOC’s battle against doping and earned a reputation for solving problems as chief coordinator of last year’s successful Sydney Olympics.
In the last year Rogge has brought calm to Athens’s troubled preparations for the 2004 Summer Games, again as chief coordinator.
His biggest problem as the members prepare to vote will be to persuade his colleagues that he is tough enough to control such a large organisation of eclectic members drawn from royalty, business and politics.
Insiders say he is no pushover in the board room and Rogge points to the fact that he showed his steel by defying political pressure to lead the Belgian team to the 1980 Moscow Games in the face of a U.S-led boycott.
An accomplished performer for the media, he has used his medical experience cleverly to show his qualities.
“In my profession I have to take critical decisions on a daily basis and show responsibility,” he said. “I think I can be described as a trouble-shooter.”
Rogge has made it clear that he will not be a glamorous president of an organisation which has suffered from the image of being an exclusive club for millionaires and royalty.
“I am a sober man. I would have a sober style,” he said.
Rogge, however, does not have the political background of Kim who, as a former ambassador for South Korea, has extensive contacts in international politics. But the South Korean is more than a decade older than his main rivals.
The commission investigating the Salt Lake scandal gave Kim a warning after finding that a Salt Lake bid official had arranged to pay at least part of the salary of Kim’s son when he worked for a U.S. company.
However, Kim denied all knowledge of the arrangement and the commission said in a report that it could not prove otherwise.
The commission was headed by Kim’s presidential rival Pound. Ten IOC members were forced to leave the organisation for breaking rules on accepting gifts from Salt Lake when the U.S. city was bidding successfully for the 2002 Winter Games.
Pound, a former Olympic swimmer, may pay for his role in the affair, possibly losing votes among some IOC members who were sad to see colleagues forced off the body.
The Canadian, who is the same age as Rogge, has the ability to be an efficient president. But his straight-talking style, while welcomed by the media, may have upset some members over the years.
Rogge’s advantage is that he has upset a great deal fewer.