IOC chief confident of security

Feb. 7, 2002 at 7:57 PM
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SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 7 (UPI) -- On the eve of his first Games as International Olympic Committee president, Jacques Rogge Thursday expressed confidence in security measures here, even as police detonated a suspicious package just blocks from the media center.

Rogge described precautions as "the highest possible level," saying they had been reviewed by both the Salt Lake Organizing Committee and the IOC's own experts.

Earlier Thursday, however, police destroyed a bag filled with electrical equipment that apparently was left intentionally in a parking garage. Authorities stressed, however, that it was not an explosive device.

"We are pleased by what the American authorities have put in place," Rogge said at his pre-Olympic news conference.

Elected last July to succeed the controversial Juan Antonio Samaranch, Rogge addressed a wide range of topics -- from concerns over doping to the inability of the Dutch team to find someone to carry the flag at Friday night's opening ceremony.

After the IOC abandoned efforts to keep the World Trade Center flag out of the Opening Ceremony, Rogge said the Salt Lake City Games will have "special significance" in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

"This will send a strong signal that people can come together from different countries, different cultures, different religions. It's a strong signal the world has been waiting for," he said.

The IOC, Rogge said, will take steps to close a loophole that allowed American bobsledder Pavle Jovanovic to participate in the Games despite testing positive for an anabolic steroid.

"The message to athletes is clear. We will protect clean athletes, we will kick out the cheats," he said. "We will amend the charter and have a rule allowing us to refuse entries.

"We respect the independence of international federations. However, when it comes to the Olympics, we have our own rules."

Rogge also defended the IOC's decision to refuse to allow a lone representative from Afghanistan to march in the Opening Ceremony as a symbol of that nation's return to the international community.

"It would be useless to start investing in sport in a country where security is not totally assured," he said, noting Afghanistan has never sent an athlete to the Winter Olympics. "We only want athletes to participate when they are well-trained and well-prepared."

In the wake of the Salt Lake City Olympic bribery scandal, the IOC is moving ahead with plans to adopt new conflict-of-interest rules. And a committee continues to study ways to scale down the Games. Rogge noted that 195,000 people received Olympic accreditation for the Sydney Summer Olympics, up from 130,000 in Barcelona in 1992.

"It's a whole army," he said. "Every athlete is surrounded by 80 people wearing plastic cards."

The briefing ended on a lighter note after Rogge was asked about the inability of the Netherlands to find a flag bearer.

"I find it very sorry that athletes don't want to participate in the opening ceremony," he said. "I believe every American athlete would give his life to carry the American flag," he said. "It's very sad, a fundamental mistake. I'm saying it's wrong and they'll regret it later on, when they're mature."

Rogge reiterated plans to live in the Olympic Village during the Games and eat with the athletes, joking he would party only with those who have something to celebrate.

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