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.
He put Tampa-Orlando in tier two with San Francisco. San Francisco is a great city but does not have enough sports venues or adequate rapid transit, he said.
Washington-Baltimore ranked in tier three because of crime and the cities' lack of a history in playing host to sports events. Cincinnati lacks the necessary infrastructure, he said, and Houston doesn't have sufficient sports venues.
Another source, well-versed in the international Olympic competition, ranked Dallas, Washington-Baltimore and Tampa-Orlando at the top.
"Those are the cities that I think will put forth the strongest bids," he said.
Kelly, the Atlanta consultant, ranked Houston, Dallas and Washington-Baltimore among the top bid efforts.
"I think Cincinnati will run a credible race but, along with Tampa-Orlando, will have a tough time selling themselves as a world-class city," Kelly said.
The New York bid doesn't seem to have gone anywhere, and its representatives don't attend meetings, he said. He doesn't expect the bid of Los Angeles, which also played host to the Games in 1932, to be successful, but not because of the quality of its bid.
"I just don't think people want to go to a city for a third time before they go to an equally good city for the first time," Kelly said.
Those familiar with the selection process say the decision comes down to much more than a laundry list of facilities such as new stadiums or attributes such as climate.
"It is by no stretch of the imagination a contest of who has the most or best of a number of things," said Payne, who has talked with and assisted organizers in virtually every 2012 bid city. "Although such things as size, available facilities and sports experience of each competing city are valid ways to make comparisons, they seldom are the determining factor in who gets the Games," Payne said. "The truth of the matter is, subjective issues are just as important."
Payne considers the logistics necessary to handle the Games a relatively easy hurdle for any U.S. city. That's where the less tangible factors come in.
"The quality of the people representing the area and their commitment and passion for the Olympic movement is the single most important factor, bar none," Payne said. "This combination of passion and love of your own community and love of sport is a critical combination."
Experts who study Olympic bids say it's nearly impossible for a city to distinguish itself through impressive facilities so early in the race. But it is possible for a city to hurt its chances by making itself look bad through a political error or some other shortcoming, the experts agree.
"What a city has to be concerned about is eliminating any negatives or perceived weaknesses in the bid," Arani said. "At this stage of the proceeding, it's more important than to think you're going to come up with a couple of positive points that will overwhelm the competition. When you're looking at that many cities, it's easier to eliminate one that falls short than to split hairs on characteristics they all may have in common. Where you're lacking is what's going to sink you rather than how well you do on a couple things."
In the end, the selection has the same characteristics of many campaigns, most agree.
"It's just going to come down to who's the best lobbyist," said John Kelley, president of the Houston International Sports Committee, who is heading the Houston bid. "When you've got those venues and transportation and hotels and food, it becomes a good political race."
The USOC is expected to narrow the field in March 2002 to an unspecified number of finalists.
The man whose energy helped drive the long-shot Atlanta Olympic bid to victory in 1996, Billy Payne, is optimistic about getting the Olympics back to the United States in 2012.
"If you can get past the domestic race, I think 2012 is a great year for any American city," Payne said. "My brain and heart tell me it will be just the right amount of time after Atlanta."
Pub Date: 2/14/99