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10,000 snoops to shift scrutiny from Nagano onto S.L.

Imagine your nosiest relative coming to visit for a couple of weeks, the one who'll tell everyone back home all of your family's dirty little secrets.

Now consider what would happen if you invited more than 10,000 professional snoops to take the same close look at your community - journalists from all over the world who are paid to report back whatever they can dig up.Welcome to the Olympics.

For the past few weeks, it's Nagano that's been under press scrutiny. But now that the 1998 Winter Games are over, it's Salt Lake City's turn.

Salt Lake City will host the next Winter Games in 2002, but the next Olympics are the Summer Games in Sydney, Australia, in 2000. Still, there already seems to be plenty of press interest in Salt Lake City.

The Wall Street Journal ran a story in its Asian edition last week that suggested Salt Lake "seems eager to underplay what it is best known as the headquarters of the Mormon" Church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is described as "a religion known as devout, polygamous and teetotaling." Some Utahns, the article states, already are worried about a wild party crowd coming to town in 2002.

Utah's liquor laws are labeled "bad news," especially after experiencing Nagano's limited but late-night bar scene. And there's also a warning about "Salt Lake's admonition not to curse."

Olympic finances, the issue that Utahns are most concerned about, merits a mention at the end of the article. The $1 billion-plus budget, touted by organizers as scaled to revenues, is seen as "startlingly low.'

Yet it's drinking that seems to be on the minds of many journalists here whenever they think about Salt Lake City. No conversation with another reporter is complete without the question, "Can I get a beer there?" While the question didn't come up during Salt Lake City's official press briefing Thursday, it's been asked enough here to result in what's been proclaimed as the unofficial slogan for 2002 by a Japanese newspaper.

That slogan is, "If you can't get a drink in Salt Lake City then you ain't thirsty," according to the Asahi Evening News, the English edition of one of Japan's largest newspapers.

It's the same phrase Frank Joklik, chief executive officer of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, used three years ago to help sell the bid to the International Olympic Committee.

While Joklik and other SLOC officials seem tired of the question, top IOC officials are privately expressing concern that Utah may not be prepared to handle the international media.

"We don't know if it's naivete or arrogance," one official told the Deseret News, noting that organizers haven't spent much time observing the Nagano Organizing Committee's media operations.

"It seems to be a bit of a small-time mentality," the official said. It's the writers, photographers and broadcasters, after all, who tell the world about an Olympic city.

But the 200-plus Utahns here have learned some valuable lessons from their Nagano counterparts.

The most valuable, they said, is the need to be flexible, as Nagano Olympic organizers found when weather problems forced them to reschedule the downhill ski races and other big events several times.

It's more than a matter of changing the day and time of events. Rescheduling means reconfiguring everything from transportation schedules to the deployment of security forces.

The only way to cope with the chaos is to be ready for it. Touring the venues a few days before the Games began, Utahns marveled that such details as placing hangers in lockers had already been taken care of.

Nagano organizers have faced some bad press over the past two weeks, although it hasn't been as harsh as what was heaped on Atlanta during the 1996 Summer Games.

The organizational problems with those Olympics quickly became the story as transportation, technology and security systems failed, and the streets filled up with city-sanctioned vendors.

Wary of being seen the same way, Nagano organizers tried to take care of the thousands of reporters here by providing them with reasonably priced housing and meals and brand-new broadcasting and print media centers.

Like every city that's ever hosted an Olympics, Nagano is hoping to remake its image. The midsize city is considered isolated and provincial by the Japanese and was virtually unknown to the rest of the world.