IOC to vote on site for centennial Games Atlanta a favorite in today's balloting

September 18, 1990|By Susan Reimer

In a secret ballot often compared to the election of a pope because of its mysterious ceremony and inscrutable politics, the International Olympic Committee will select today the site for the 1996 Summer Games.

Huge delegations from the bidding cities -- Athens, Greece; Atlanta; Toronto; Manchester, England; Belgrade, Yugoslavia; and Melbourne, Australia -- are in Tokyo making last-minute pitches to the 88 diverse and idiosyncratic IOC delegates, who often have shown no pattern in their decision-making.

There is, however, a common thread of reasoning among those handicapping the IOC's balloting. If Athens doesn't get it on the first ballot -- 1996 is the centenary of the modern Games, but Athens has serious drawbacks as a site -- then it is anybody's Games.

"The Olympic Committee has always placed great weight on tradition, but whether history or reality wins the day remains to be seen," said Kevan Gosper, president of the Australian Olympic Federation.

A city must win a majority of votes -- 45 of 88 -- and balloting will continue until that happens. The city receiving the fewest votes will be eliminated after each ballot.

Melbourne, Atlanta and Toronto are considered the front-runners if the severe financial, political, logistical and pollution problems of Athens become too much for the IOC to ignore.

"While some of them may go with their traditional favorite or the one that they feel they need to support on the first round, we just want them to think about Atlanta on the second round," said Anne B. Duncan of the Atlanta Organizing Committee.

In its campaign for the 1996 Games, Atlanta distanced itself from the profit-taking of the 1984 Games in Los Angeles and the 1980 boycott of Georgia's own Jimmy Carter.

It has pitched itself as a modern metropolis ideally equipped to handle the Olympian task of putting on an Olympics, and also as a shining example of the New South, a cradle of human rights and a suitable resting place for the higher values of the Olympics.

"We want to continue showing them Atlanta has the composite of spiritual and physical components needed for the Olympic Games," said William Porter Payne, founder of the Atlanta Organizing Committee.

A delegation of more than 300 from the AOC went to Tokyo last week to strengthen the personal relationships it has established with almost every IOC member.

That intimacy has been the hallmark of Payne's three-year effort, in which he was joined by Andrew Young, Atlanta's former mayor and the former United Nations ambassador whose international reputation has opened doors worldwide for the AOC.

"Most everyone I've talked to on the IOC says that Atlanta has the best spirit, and that is a very important intangible," said U.S. Olympic Committee president Robert Helmick.

Belgrade and Manchester, which has not been able to shed its blue-collar image, are considered out of the running.

Melbourne's major drawback is its distance from Europe and North America, but its organizing committee has promised to subsidize travel expenses.

Toronto's bid is strong. That city has excellent facilities, including the new SkyDome, and security. And it shares the appeal that Atlanta has -- being in North America's Eastern time zone, it would draw more television money, of which the IOC receives 40 percent.

But there is a vocal anti-Olympic group calling itself "Bread Not Circuses," which objects to the Games on economic grounds, and that may put the IOC off.

That would appear to leave Atlanta and Melbourne as the logical contenders if Athens falters.

Atlanta's bid has been executed with Southern charm, but the $7 million effort has been called excessive by its critics. The AOC has chauffeured IOC members in stretch limousines with )) police escorts and treated them to marching bands and dinners on the gold-studded yacht that belonged to the late Malcolm Forbes. Ten IOC members watched at the stadium at Georgia Tech as hundreds of students, dressed in multicolored jerseys, formed the five interlocking Olympic rings.

The IOC's evaluation commission rated Atlanta's as the best technical bid and Athens' as the worst. But that may mean nothing.

The IOC is notably sentimental about the Olympic heritage and history. And its members are laboring under this threat from Spyros Metaxas, president of the Athens Olympic Bidding Committee: "Morally, the Games belong to us.... If we don't get the Olympics in 1996, we will never bid again to host them."

Paul Henderson, architect of Toronto's bid, said, "If they decide that Athens is up to the job, then it's all over on the first ballot."

*Faster, higher,


The growth of the Summer Olympics since the modern Games began in 1896, with number of nations and athletes:




St. Louis*******1904*******12*********554






Los Angeles*****1932*******38*******1,331







Mexico City*****1968*******113******6,626




Los Angeles*****1984*******140******7,055


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