clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:


It will be the first time the Olympic parliament has sat in Britain, and observers from Manchester, the British longshot that will go to the same ballot box in two years for the 2000 Summer Games, will witness one of the movement's fiercest dilemmas.

With the IOC accused of "selling out" to American business and prime-time TV interests by choosing Atlanta over Athens, sentimental favorite for the centennial 1996 Summer Games, can they afford further global condemnation by awarding North America its sixth Olympics in 22 years? Or, as the citizens of Salt Lake City observe, can they afford not to?The other four contenders - Nagano, Japan; Ostersund, Sweden; Aosta, Italy; and Jaca, Spain - all have their impressively frozen assets, but the word from IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, who does not vote, is that Salt Lake is a "very, very strong candidate."

When he was there a couple of weeks ago, he was sufficiently impressed to declare: "The importance of Salt Lake's bid is not in its promises, but its realities."

Manchester please note.

"Bids are no longer based on geography and sentimentality, but good sound judgment and commercial viability," argues Tom Welch, who will lead the Salt Lake assault.

Welch is a millionaire philanthropist - every bid should have one - who lives in considerable splendor on a mountain appropriately named Olympus and has devoted himself totally to bringing the Games to Utah.

Salt Lake is a natural leisure oasis which, in order to lodge its claim as the most eligible contender of the six, has had to loosen up somewhat.

In the headquarters city of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is possible to sin a little and, as one of the principal watering holes is called the Red Lion, thirsty would-be Olympians need have no qualms about getting a drink even if under idiosyncratic local liquor laws you might have to mix your own martini, or devour a bagel with your beer.

Whether or not Salt Lake City gets the Games, Manchester's sanguine lobbyists can learn much from the American campaign.

First, get yourself a slogan. Utah's is "the Greatest Snow on Earth."

Then, if you really want to impress IOC delegates, bring as many of them as possible on a first-class freebie to view facilities and sample the hospitality, load them up with presents - remembering that Samaranch has slapped on a $250 limit after Britain's Princess Royal publicly bridled at lavish handouts she considered tantamount to bribery during last year's Tokyo election for the 1996 Games - and offer free transportation from home, plus luxurious board and lodgings to all overseas competitors.

By the time of the secret ballot, some two-thirds of IOC members will have visited Salt Lake - a figure higher than for any other contender.

Welch already has been told by one Olympic dignitary that Salt Lake "is not an Olympic city, it is an Olympic mecca." So his hopes are high.

So they should be with an airport 10 minutes from town, most Olympic facilities already built and all within 45 minutes by multilane highway of a city center which has thousands of hotel beds committed not to hike prices for the Games (Albertville and Barcelona, please note).

Salt Lake claims it can easily accommodate the largest Winter Games in history, and in a pinch, could step in for Albertville next year or Lillehammer (in 1994) should either venue be snowed off.

"We may be a bunch of cowboys and Indians out here in the West," says Welch, "but, by criminy, we know how to put on a show."

You've also got to have a gimmick or two. Last December Welch arranged for a freezerful of virgin Utah snow to be shipped to Western Samoa, so Chief Seiuli Wallwork, the IOC's man in Polynesia, could experience a white Christmas.

No one is suggesting Manchester should dispatch the odd bucketful of its copious rain to the Kalahari desert, but you get the point.

Salt Lake is one of America's youngest and one of its most affluent major cities, blending "howdy" hospitality with small-town ambience and big-time technology.

Salt Lake's bid, funded by private donations and 10 corporate sponsors, is costing $4.6 million, roughly the same as Manchester's intended outlay.

Although no longer quite as pure as the snow driven down from the Wasatch Mountains, it is a relaxed, decorous place with wide avenues and air that is pine-crisp and sparkling.

Americans are practiced at the selling game and those associated with the Salt Lake pitch for the Olympics bring persuasive qualities which one suspects the IOC will find hard to resist, even with the Atlanta factor.

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service