U.S. bids could avoid major harm

Contenders for 2012 not expected to feel any scandal backlash

`A good political race'

Baltimore-D.C. entry gets mixed evaluation from analysts


February 14, 1999|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

When the Olympic bribery scandal in Salt Lake City broke, some in the sports community worried that the controversy would taint U.S. cities' chances to land the Games for years to come.

But as cities around the globe reported being approached by International Olympic Committee members seeking favors in exchange for votes, possible damage to U.S. cities has been mitigated.

"In the last 45 days, there's been a dramatic shift to saying this was not a Salt Lake problem," said Jack Kelly, president of Event Partners Inc., a consulting business in Atlanta, who is working on the Houston bid for 2012. "Because of that, there's not likely to be a backlash against the United States."

Others agree that the United States is unlikely to be punished for being the place where the dark side of the Olympic world came to light.

"My gut reaction is that it's going to level the playing field," said Ardy Arani, managing director of API Championship Group/Atlanta. "The odds of any bid city gaining favor will be greatly reduced. The bids will be more likely to stand on their own merit. I don't think there will be any backlash."

Nine IOC members have resigned or are to be expelled for receiving cash payments, scholarships and other favors from the Salt Lake City bidders for the 2002 Winter Games. Dick Pound, the IOC vice president leading the organization's investigation, has said there is evidence that at least a dozen IOC members or their relatives received cash, gifts, or donations directly or indirectly from Salt Lake City bidders, more than $100,000 in several cases.

John P. Bevilaqua, an Atlanta marketing communications consultant specializing in sports marketing, said he is unsure how much Salt Lake City will be blamed in the scandal.

"I think the jury is still out on that," said Bevilaqua, who has experience with eight recent Olympics. "I think someone has to be thrown under the bus. Right now, it's Salt Lake and a few IOC members. Salt Lake is a good whipping boy because they're temporary, and they're going to be out of business in 2003."

Any ill will toward the U.S. Olympic Committee by the IOC could show up in punitive action against Salt Lake City, Bevilaqua said. That could affect cities in the future through the bidding rules, he said.

Most agree that a far greater threat than the Salt Lake City scandal to the eight U.S. cities bidding for the 2012 Games lies in Toronto's bid for the 2008 Games.

Historically, the Games have rotated among continents, and many believe it is unlikely the event would return to North America in 2012 if Toronto landed the 2008 Games.

"If Toronto wins, it would be a complication," said Billy Payne, Atlanta Olympic organizer and now vice chairman of Premier Technologies and WebMD, an Internet company for the health services industry. "But do you reduce your own efforts based on the odds of being able to say a certain city will win in a given year? Do not get preoccupied with it. Move on."

Toronto, Beijing and Osaka, Japan, have said they want to play host to the 2008 Games. Also expected to declare are Buenos Aires, Argentina; Istanbul, Turkey; and Seville, Spain. Considering bids are Paris; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Cairo, Egypt.

"There's one view that it would be difficult to bring the Olympics to North America for consecutive Olympiads," said Mike Moran, spokesman for the USOC. "If Toronto wins in 2008, it could be a problem and again it might not. Now that China is in the 2008 mix, I like our chances tremendously."

Kelly dismisses Toronto as serious competition for the 2008 Games.

"I think the chances of Toronto getting the 2008 Games are nil," he said.

The field of U.S. competitors for the 2012 Games narrowed by one late last year when Seattle -- considered by many a leading contender -- dropped out because of a lack of civic support. That leaves Washington-Baltimore, San Francisco, Dallas, Cincinnati, Houston, New York, Tampa-Orlando, Fla., and Los Angeles.

Those cities' next major deadline is March 31, 2000, when bids must be submitted to the USOC. That committee will choose a U.S. candidate city in 2002, and the IOC will award the 2012 games in 2005.

Despite the scandal, rampant bribery jokes and shifting rules, enthusiasm among the bid cities remains strong, experts say.

"People are assuming there will be a diminution of interest in some cities," Kelly said. "I haven't seen that at all. The Games are still the Games. The ultimate value to the community is no less than it was six months ago, or four months ago, or even two months ago."

The experts disagree on which U.S. cities lead the competition.

Bevilaqua, who is not working with any of the 2012 bid cities, ranked them in three groups, with Los Angeles, New York and Dallas in the top tier -- Los Angeles because it was host to the Games in 1984, New York because it held the Goodwill Games last year and Dallas because of its ample space, facilities, hotels and freeways.

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