SBJ/June 18 - 24, 2001/This Weeks Issue

Come hell or high water, Houston decides to go ahead with USOC bid visit

Despite the recent devastation of Tropical Storm Allison, a Houston group bidding to bring the 2012 Olympic Games to the Texas city will not request a postponement of a July 16-19 evaluation visit by the U.S. Olympic Committee. More than 20 inches of rain flooded highways and neighborhoods, damaging an estimated 20,000 homes.

"It was the worst flood in anybody's memory," said Houston 2012 executive director Susan Bandy. "It was a very significant event. But everyone has pulled together."

An eight-member team of USOC staffers and volunteers is in Dallas this week, the second stop of a site evaluation tour of the eight U.S. cities poised to enter the global race to host the 2012 Games. The group launched its tour in Washington, D.C.

To come after Houston are Cincinnati (July 23-26); New York (July 30-Aug. 2); Tampa (Aug. 2-5); San Francisco (Aug. 20-23); and Los Angeles (Aug. 23-26).

Candidate cities are required to demonstrate that they can cover the costs of preparing for and hosting the Games, as well as deliver a plan for world-class facilities, organizational integrity, proximity between venues and transportation efficiency.

To meet preliminary requirements, city bid officials already have submitted budget projections to stage the 2012 Games. These range from just under $2 billion (Houston and Los Angeles) to more than $3 billion (New York).

Ultimately, the USOC must put forward a candidate capable of competing against some global heavyweights. If, as many predict, Beijing is awarded the 2008 Games, a U.S. candidate would face competition from the likes of Istanbul, Paris and Toronto. Most observers believe that if the 2008 Games are in Toronto, a U.S. city cannot be a serious contender until the vote for the 2016 Games in 2009.

  THE GAMES BEGIN: Cabdrivers in the 2004 Olympic host city of Athens apparently embrace the Olympic tradition of "special prices," even with the Games three years away.

A visitor to Greece for recent meetings between organizers of the Games and representatives of the 10 global Olympic sponsors encountered one such driver. The passenger was given two options — a cheaper but longer route to his hotel for the flat fare of 6,000 drachma ($15), or the quicker, beachfront route for a higher fare of 8,000 drachma ($20). The metered fare, in another cab, was 2,500 drachma ($6.25).

  REALITY CHECKS: Two of America's largest daily newspapers took recent aim on subjects with Olympic ties.

A Wall Street Journal editorial referenced Beijing's bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics in the context of China's recent confrontation with a U.S. spy plane. "Almost surely confirming in China's eyes that this is acceptable," the editorial stated, "the White House says it won't stand in the way of China's bid for the coveted 2008 Olympics."

In reality, a deliberate U.S. campaign to stop the Games from being awarded to Beijing would almost surely guarantee a Beijing victory in this July's voting by the 126 members of the International Olympic Committee. Fifty-nine IOC members are European, with the remaining balance largely spread among Asian and African nations. Only four IOC members are U.S. citizens. Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state, is an honorary, nonvoting member.

A Los Angeles Times editorial slammed a program enacted by organizers of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games to auction limited tickets via eBay's online marketplace: "What is democratic about ensuring that only royalty can afford a prime seat to these allegedly amateur games? ... [Mitt] Romney and his aides have worked valiantly to salvage Salt Lake's tarnished Olympics. Now they stand to tarnish it again, by winning the Olympic gold medal for gouging."

Not only does the IOC Charter contain zero references to the word "amateur," the original intent of so-called amateurism was to include only members of society's most affluent classes. Additionally, if a U.S. organizing committee has a budgetary shortfall, it can't look for a bailout from the national government, as in most places around the world where Olympics are staged. Here, deficits are covered by local or state taxpayers.

 AFRICAN NATIONS FOR 199: Outgoing IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, 80, last week set out to fulfill his pledge to visit all 199 national Olympic committees before his 21-year reign ends. The three remaining on his list were Burundi, Comoros and Eritrea, which were scheduled stops during an African tour.

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