Heiberg gives up an IOC role

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Gerhard Heiberg, the 74-year-old Norwegian who’s been a fixture on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for years, was pleased that Oslo voters gave the nod this week to the idea he planted two years ago that Norway should host another Winter Olympics. He had other things on his mind though, and plans to resign as head of the IOC’s marketing activities.

Gerhard Heiberg, longtime member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), told DN that he thinks the Chinese view him as a friend of China, not as a Norwegian. PHOTO: Beijing2008

Gerhard Heiberg, longtime member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), has long been viewed in Norway as being too “pro-China” and overlooking its dubious track record on human rights issues. PHOTO: Beijing2008

Heiberg is a controversial figure in Norway, still hailed for being an important part of the successful 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer but criticized for a perceived arrogance and for failing to use the power of the Olympic movement to crack down on human rights violations in host countries. He most recently was blasted for not being tough enough on Russia, host of this winter’s upcoming Olympics, after a new law seen as discriminatory against homosexuals was passed by the Russian government. Heiberg also warned athletes against mounting any demonstrations at the games this winter.

Now he fears conflicts at the Olympics, telling the head of the Russian organizing committee that especially US sponsors are worried over what might happen at the Olympics in Sochi. “That can ruin a lot for all of us,” Heiberg said at an IOC meeting in Buenos Aires over the weekend.

Heiberg has been keen to point out that “we can’t try to change the law in Russia,” but worries about the consequences of the law that forbids “homosexual propaganda.” Russian authorities have said that no homosexuals will be harassed during the Olympics, and that homosexuality itself isn’t illegal in Russia, only promotion of it. The legal definition of “promotion,” however, remains unclear.

Meanwhile, Heiberg said he’ll resign as marketing chief for the Olympics at the end of the year. He’ll retain his IOC membership, which he’s held since 1994, but said he wants more time for his family.

Heiberg also thinks it’s important that the newly elected president of the IOC, Thomas Bach of Germany, should be able to appoint his own group of bosses at the IOC. Bach will be the first IOC president to have won an Olympic medal himself (the gold in team fencing at the Summer Games in Montreal in 1976), and Heiberg told news bureau NTB that he considers Bach “strong and highly principled.”

Not everyone has a high opinion of the members of the IOC or its leadership. The entire Olympic movement has been criticized lately for games that have grown too large and expensive at a time when the initial Olympic spirit of promoting amateur athletics is  outdated. One former athletics boss in Norway wrote recently in newspaper Dagsavisen that he views the IOC as “half-corrupt and made up of slightly demented elders,” with a “self-important Norwegian” among them.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund