Olympics Seeks Middle Ground to Survive Financially

Louis Aguilar
The Denver Post
February 4, 2002

When Lake Placid, New York, hosted the Winter Olympics in 1980, athletes slept in what would later become a prison, and organizers nearly declared bankruptcy on a $168 million budget.

Then a financial revolution saved the Olympics. The sale of exclusive television rights, lucrative corporate sponsorships, and the marketing of the five rings transformed the Olympics into a multibillion-dollar machine with a global audience.

Now, as the Winter Olympics opens in Salt Lake City with a $1.9 billion price tag, organizers say the very concept that saved the Olympics threatens it.

"There's no question corporate sponsorship saved the games," said Dick Pound, a longtime International Olympic Committee (IOC) official who heads a new task force assigned to find ways to downsize the Olympics. "The trick," he added, "is to find the balance."

The Olympics will have to continue taking corporate money to survive. But organizers will look at everything from trimming staff and media in attendance to cutting down on the costly technology that has grown up around the games, and even the number of sports that are featured.

Already, the IOC has frozen the number of sports, athletes, and events for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, and begun studying which sports should be on the program for the 2008 summer games in Beijing.

There's no timetable for the commission to finish its work, and it's too early to predict what solutions it will offer, Pound said, noting: "We need to take a comprehensive look at the entire process."

"Need to Scale Back"

Concern about the games' growth has been growing steadily. IOC President Jacques Rogge was elected last year partly on a platform of reining in the spectacle and its increasingly staggering costs.

"We have reached the limits of what modern sophisticated countries can deliver in terms of staging the games. We have to scale back," Rogge told the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., last November.

The cost and size of the Olympics prevents what is supposed to be an international event from being staged in most countries. Nations in Latin America and most of Africa and Asia probably could not handle the event, Rogge said.

Already, Greece, where the ancient Olympic Games were born, is under fire as ill-prepared for the Summer 2004 Olympics, which will be held in Athens. Greece is one of the smallest countries in recent history to stage the Summer Olympics.

Critics say the enormous amount of money and international publicity at stake helped breed corruption such as the scandal in which Salt Lake City boosters dispensed as much as $7 million in gifts to IOC members to win the bid for this year's games.

Continued on Next Page >>


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