2008 bid for Games doubtful USOC's vote today may put off cities

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The U.S. Olympic Committee's governing board will decide today whether to recommend an American application for the 2008 Summer Olympics, and most of the early betting is that the group will forgo those Games in favor of a 2012 bid.

The executive committee will confer by conference call and come up with a recommendation for the 107-member USOC board of directors, which will then vote by mail-in ballot over the next month. Among the possibilities: a bid for 2008, a bid for 2012 or nominating one city for both.

Recommendations of the executive committee traditionally carry a lot of weight with the board of directors, so a vote to postpone a bid would be a disappointment to Baltimore and the seven other cities that have applied for the 2008 Games -- Cincinnati, Houston, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington.

The strength of Baltimore's application has been the abundance of new sports facilities in the area, from an arena in Washington to two NFL stadiums in Maryland. Those facilities would be middle-aged by 2012 and competing against newer ones in rival cities.

But Maryland Stadium Authority chairman John Moag, who is heading Baltimore's bid, said he would not be discouraged by a delay to 2012 -- which has always been mentioned by the USOC as a strong possibility.

At issue for the 20 executive committee members, made up of USOC officers and volunteer representatives of various Olympic sports, is strategy. Does the United States stand a chance of landing the Games so soon after Atlanta in 1996 and Salt Lake City in 2002? If not, does mounting a bid for 2008 help or hurt the chances of getting the Games in 2012?

On this there are rival camps within the executive committee. Some feel a full-court press for 2008 keeps the nation in the running if a favored rival falters and enhances the chances for 2012. Others think it could hurt and that a safer course would be to recommend a 2012 application today and pursue the 2007 Pan Am Games.

"It's hard to tell what they will do," USOC spokesman Mike Moran said.

"We have a feeling on the international mood and need to determine if it's prudent to make a 2008 bid. It might not be."

The USOC wasn't even considering a bid for the 2008 Games until the election last October of William Hybl as president. Several other nations were already in pursuit of the Games, but he favored testing the interest of potential host cities before ruling out an effort.

The USOC held a seminar earlier this year for interested cities in Philadelphia and asked applicants to ante up a $100,000 fee. The response was better than the committee expected, which may deliver some support today.

"My gut reaction is: Why not?" said George Gowen, who, until last October, was general counsel and a non-voting member of the USOC executive committee. He will not be involved in the vote tomorrow, but said such deliberations are almost always unpredictable.

Those favoring a bid traditionally view it as a building process, one that attracts support and attention to a city that help it with later competition, Gowen said. And the costs are mostly borne by the applicant city, not the USOC.

"Maybe, realistically, the odds of an American city getting it in 2008 are very small. But does that help you get in line for 2012, or '16 or '20?" he said.

The consensus among USOC leaders is that the 2008 Games are likely to go elsewhere, probably to a country in the southern hemisphere -- South Africa is often mentioned -- that has not had the Games before.

One executive committee member said he and other members are concerned that a 2008 bid might reduce the chances of success for 2012. The Games are ultimately awarded by the International Olympic Committee after spirited political jockeying.

If U.S. delegates to the IOC are able to trade away their votes on 2008, they can call in the favor for 2012, goes this line of reasoning.

"If you're always running for office, then you never have any favors to give away," the committee member said.

Also, the USOC is sensitive to the perception of American arrogance around the world and that too-frequent bids could be seen as greedy. Furthermore, there is still lingering resentment among IOC members about the commercialization of the Atlanta Games.

"Everyone recognizes that it would be the remotest of possibilities that we would get the Games in 2008," the committee member said. "It could be to the advantage of future bids for us not to be bidding now."

Pub Date: 5/15/97

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