The IOC: no expense spared

Jacques Rogge (L) arrives with Princess Anne at the Opening Ceremony of the IOC at the Royal Opera House on July 23. (Fabrice Coffrini/Getty Images)

With a goodly number of crown princes, princesses, sheikhs and counts in its ranks, the International Olympic Committee is not a club inclined to cut corners.

The presence in London of the 109 IOC members, led by president Jacques Rogge, is quickly coming under the kind of scrutiny they presumably knew they were in for seven years ago when they decided, narrowly, to stage the 2012 Olympics in London rather than Paris.

The grandeur of their five-star residence in the Park Lane Hilton, complete with security cordon, set the tone for the criticism they can probably expect to encounter on a regular basis during the games.

An audience with the Queen at Buckingham Palace on Monday was followed by a gala ceremony at the Royal Opera House, and no expense was spared. The house orchestra and chorus, the Royal Ballet, and opera stars Bryn Terfel, Placido Domingo and Renee Fleming entertained. IOC members were suitably dressed for the occasion.

There was pomposity to be pricked, and Boris Johnson was holding the needle. The London mayor’s full-throttle rendition of a Pindaric ode to the games, which he himself commissioned, might have been designed to shake the members out of their complacent selves.

And there was surely some mayoral tongue-in-cheek over some parts of his ode which, when translated from the Greek, could have come straight from the discarded doggerel scrapbooks of William McGonagall:

Applaud as rival teams, in sport allied,

March in from the far corners of the earth.

The poet now must emulate their stride

And craft an ode to sporting worth.

But in truth they rather liked it, giving the mayor a hearty roar of approval. Perhaps the irony of being sent up by an Old Etonian was not lost on some of the IOC membership.

As president, Mr Rogge is under particular scrutiny. He has been trying to argue that the IOC is stuffed full of hard-working people, some of whom are plain old former athletes. The Belgian used the phrase “working class” to describe the membership and its endeavours, an unfortunate misuse of English.

He also told the Today Programme: “We live in the real world, absolutely we do.” But this is unlikely to wash for London car commuters as they sit in clogged up streets gazing at the unused special Olympic lanes that have come into force in the centre of town.

The lanes are there mainly to carry athletes and the media to and from events, but the IOC members, who also get to use the lanes, will be the ones who incur the wrath of road-rage London.

Nothing the IOC does in these weeks will change minds of the UK public about their elite and privileged status. The organisation is certainly in rude financial health, revealed this week to be $3.9bn richer from broadcast rights for the past four years, with already $3.7bn banked for rights for the next four.

Perhaps the membership rules need to be updated. More athletes from common-or-garden backgrounds, rather than the representatives of elite sports such as equestrianism and yachting, might change things.

Chiswick-born Lord Coe, brought up in Sheffield, the son of an engineer, staked an early claim to membership this week, announcing he would move on after the games to apply to become president of the International Amateur Athletics Federation, which comes with an automatic IOC seat.

But any radical change can only be driven from the top. Probably the most significant part of the London Olympics for the IOC will be the chatter among the membership as to who should replace Mr Rogge when he retires next year. The post is very much up for grabs.