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History shows hurdles for coming Games are high
Published September 24, 2001
The International Olympic Committee's reaction to terrorist attacks in the United States remains firm. Security plans for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games will be reviewed and modified. The Games, however, will not be moved or postponed.
Are those the last words?
Author and historian Bill Mallon says there are substantial barriers to completing the countdown to the Salt Lake Games.
"There are four or five reasons" why the Games are in jeopardy, said Mallon, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians and a consultant to the IOC.
Chief among them: the possibility that the United States may be involved in a large-scale military operation. World wars forced cancellation of the Games in 1916, 1940 and 1944, and while no one has suggested that such a conflict may be imminent, there's also no way to tell the extent to which the United States and its allies may become involved in a war against terrorists.
Depending on the size of the conflict, the $200 million and personnel the United States has committed as the primary provider of security during the Games may not be high on the spending priority list.
Then there's the matter of the requirement in the Olympic Charter that the host country provide free access to any athlete issued an identity card by his nation's Olympic committee. The United States either complies or the Games don't happen. There is no apparent gray area. (It's worth noting that Afghanistan's IOC membership was rescinded in 1999).
"I think the combination of these will stop [the Games] from happening," said Mallon. "I hope I'm wrong."
A lot of other people — athletes, the IOC, global and U.S. corporate partners and NBC Sports — hope he's wrong, too, and there's certainly ample evidence that the Games will survive. The Olympic ideal, after all, is accustomed to being scrutinized, criticized, mocked, exploited and even attacked.
Reflect on the 1996 Atlanta Games, swept by fear and suspended after an early morning bomb blast took an innocent life, only to resume amid an air of public defiance three days later.
Think back to how President Jimmy Carter used an Olympic boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games to condemn the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
Recall U.S. track athletes who raised black-gloved fists on the Olympic medals podium in 1968 and were expelled, wrongly, said some, from the Games.
Or look no further than Sept. 5, 1972, when 11 Israeli Olympic team members were killed after being taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists during the Summer Games in Munich.
Somehow, after more than a century of trying, mankind's misguided acts have yet to destroy the Games and what they stand for. The recent Sydney 2000 Games seemed to reaffirm the staying power of the Olympic movement.
And just last year, the International Olympic Truce Foundation came to life, rooted in ancient Greece and elevated by a United Nations proclamation: "We urge Member States to observe the Olympic Truce, individually and collectively, now and in the future, and to support the International Olympic Committee in its efforts to promote peace and human understanding through sport and the Olympic Ideal."
It is, however, considered unlikely that a truce declaration guarantees that the Feb. 8-24 Salt Lake Winter Games will be unscathed by world events.
"The Olympic Truce appeal (is) ... a symbolic one," said Stavros Lambrinidis, director of the Olympic Truce Center in Greece, in response to an e-mail inquiry. "While we are not in a position to provide 'global assurances' that any future Games will be devoid of external threats, we most certainly hope ... to begin creating an international climate that will render fighting [including the perpetration of terrorism] during future Olympic Games ... an increasingly rare and condemnable occurrence."
Mallon, a Durham, N.C., surgeon who owns one of the world's most detailed Olympic databases, said it is not realistic to expect the U.S. government to suspend military operations that may be happening around the time of the Salt Lake Games.
Besides, the Olympic truce of ancient Greece is often misrepresented, he said. The notion of a truce was designed to give athletes and spectators safe passage to and from the Games, not to suspend war.
As for recent statements by IOC President Jacques Rogge, IOC Executive Director Francois Carrard and Salt Lake Games chief Mitt Romney that the 2002 Games will go on, Mallon said history reminds us that similar resolve did not weather the escalation of conflict that resulted in World War II.
"Up until late 1939," Mallon said, "the IOC was saying that the  Games would not be canceled. They were."
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