HOUSTON - Burned frequently by scandalous accounts of the buying and selling of the votes that decided where its games would go, the International Olympic Committee took steps in recent years to curb the influence of its members.
The art of the schmooze, however, is alive and well in the race to become the next American city to host the Summer Games.
There was an invitation to pose for photos with Tony the Tiger at 6:30 a.m. yesterday, then enjoy a breakfast which was "presented" by the Kellogg Company. Lunches this weekend are on General Motors, UPS and AT&T, and there are free tickets to take in Ken Griffey and the Cincinnati Reds against the Astros at Enron Field tonight.
Corporate sponsors still make the Olympic rings go round, but the last perk was arranged by Houston 2012, the foundation that hopes to make this steamy city the choice of the U.S. Olympic Committee to get the nation's bid for that year's Summer Games.
The United States figures to be get the 2012 Summer Games, and Houston organizers feel they got a head start on the process by serving as host to this weekend's Olympic Media Summit. There are no results of events to report, but news conferences that brought gold medalists like gymnast Shannon Miller and sprinter Michael Johnson to Houston surely added to its visibility.
Baltimore was among the cities that made a bid to host this Olympic Media Summit, the first to be held outside Colorado Springs - where the USOC is headquartered - or at an Olympic city. It is the lesser known half of the Washington/Baltimore bid, a regional effort to get the Summer Games that are coveted by Dallas, New York and others, besides Houston.
Dan Knise has been the president and CEO of the Washington/Baltimore Regional 2012 Coalition since November 1998. He said the group has three priorities.
Enhancing the region's amateur sports image, with competitions and events like the Olympic Media Summit, is important. So is broadening community support for the concept. Job No. 1, however, is preparing the approximately 600-page book that will sell the regional approach to the USOC."We have got to get a world-class bid prepared," Knise said. "Everything else is important, but at the end of the day, that's what the USOC and the IOC are going to look at. Do you have the venues? Do you have the public transportation structure? Do you have the experience and skill to handle all of the issues that come with 10,000 athletes and millions of visitors?"
Bids are due in December to the USOC, which will select its candidate to host the 2012 Summer Games in the fall of 2002. The IOC will award the Games in 2005. Even the presidential election could be a factor, since Al Gore is a Beltway insider and George W. Bush would probably push one of the Texas cities.
Baltimore is no stranger to Norm Blake, who tomorrow will mark his 100th day as the USOC's first Chief Executive Officer. Blake headed USF&G from 1990-98, when a third of its workforce was cut to reverse corporate losses of over $500 million. When USF&G merged with the St. Paul Companies, Blake left with $44 million.
Yesterday Blake said he has already begun a "drastic downsizing" of the USOC. National governing boards for lower-profile sports are threatened by his plans to appropriate funds according to international success. The bottom line in his restructuring will be the performance of American athletes.
Another dramatic change will come in a marquee sport, as women's gymnastics is no longer a misnomer now that participants must turn 16 during the Olympic year. National Team Coordinator Bela Karolyi spoke as if he wasn't one of the coaches who had been behind girls winning gold."You used to have tiny little pixies," Karolyi said. "That has been swapped for more maturity. This is a plus for the sport."