Olympics still on for now

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Deseret News, Saturday, October 13, 2001

Olympics still on for now

In 1916, 1940, 1944, Games were canceled

2001 Deseret News

By Lisa Riley Roche Deseret News staff writer

Will the 2002 Winter Games be a casualty of the war against terrorists? It's a question being raised again as U.S.-led strikes continue against targets in Afghanistan, and as new advisories are issued about terroristic threats against Americans and the dangers of anthrax and other such agents.

Olympic historian John MacAloon says that so far, the bombardment of Afghanistan wouldn't be enough to warrant cancellation of the Games. But, he adds, it's too soon to say for sure.

"It's impossible to say at the moment," MacAloon, a University of Chicago professor, said in a telephone interview.

Indeed, Olympic officials sound assured that events are unlikely to deter the international competition.

"These Games are going on," said Salt Lake Organizing Committee President Mitt Romney.

Ultimately, though, MacAloon said, "it depends . . . on what happens with the escalation of hostilities, if there's to be that, in the next two or three months." Right now, "there's no reason to doubt the Games will take place in February. At the same time, if world conditions are such that it becomes a serious threat to the security of athletes and spectators, the IOC would reconsider."

There's a lot at stake.

The more than $1.3 billion pricetag for the Games includes, for instance, more than $130 million intended to help Utah taxpayers cover the cost of facilities built or renovated for the Games.

Athletes and their federations have invested effort, time and millions of dollars in training.

Sponsoring corporations and TV networks have put more millions on the line.

"Everyone is committed to proceeding with the Games," Romney said. "There is no one who has any interest or incentive whatsoever to not to have the Olympic Games. Not the athletes. Not the spectators. And certainly not the IOC, SLOC or governmental agencies.

"We want the games to go forward," he said. "There is not one scintilla of interest in not having the Olympic Games."

That's the message from International Olympic Committee, too. During his first trip to the United States since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, IOC President Jacques Rogge found himself repeating similar reassurances.

"We see absolutely no reason why the Games should be canceled," Rogge told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution while in the Georgia city last Wednesday to meet with officials of Coca-Cola, a major Olympic sponsor. "We are in a 'Games go on' mode."

Rogge was recently given emergency powers over the Salt Lake Games by the IOC Executive Board, including the authority to call them off. Normally, it would take a vote of the more than 120 members of the IOC to cancel a Games.

Only three Summer Games have been canceled in the 105-year history of the modern Olympics in Berlin in 1916, in Tokyo in 1940 and in London in 1944, all due to world wars. The Winter Games, which did not begin until 1924, were not held in 1940 and 1944.

The death of 11 Israeli athletes at the hands of Palestinian terrorists did not end the 1972 Summer Games in Munich. A bomb planted in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park that killed one and injured more than 100 others didn't stop the 1996 Summer Games, either.

French IOC member Jean-Claude Killy was head of the organizing committee for the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France, when the United States went to war against Iraq in Operation Desert Storm.

Killy, the deputy chairman of the IOC's coordination commission over the 2002 Games, said that in 1991 he was in the same situation Romney is in today.

"The press said, 'Are you going to cancel the Games? I said, 'No way.' "

Albertville's organizers "weren't going to change course, no matter what. It's too important, what it means," Killy said of the Games. "I don't see anyone bending to that kind of pressure."

The team behind Salt Lake's bid for the 1998 Winter Games worried about the effect of the Gulf War, too. The IOC awarded those Games to Nagano, Japan, in June 1991, largely because they'd just given another American city, Atlanta, the 1996 Summer Games.

MacAloon said only world wars have been enough to cancel past Games, not a situation like Afghanistan, where there is "a developing conflict that involves that host country and you have two or three months out."

However, such conflicts have led to boycotts of past Games.

U.S. President Jimmy Carter responded to the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan more than two decades ago by ordering the U.S. Olympic team to boycott the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow. The Soviets retaliated by keeping their athletes home from the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

Anita DeFrantz, the senior member of the IOC from the United States, remembers both boycotts well. Already an Olympic rower, DeFrantz unsuccessfully fought the U.S. boycott so she and the rest of the American team could compete in Moscow. Four years later, she was an official of the Los Angeles Games and had to deal with the Soviet boycott.

But DeFrantz said Salt Lake City's organizations shouldn't worry about any country taking similar action against the 2002 Games because of the U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan. As an IOC member, DeFrantz serves as a SLOC trustee.

The U.S.-led strike against terrorists, of course, is not comparable to the Soviet Union's failed takeover attempt. "It's completely different, " DeFrantz said.

"The world has evolved since 1980," she said. "The Games are there for the world to come together. I do believe that we've learned there is little or no value in keeping athletes away from the Games."

MacAloon, too, agrees there's little chance of any boycotts yet.

"At the moment, we don't see any such development," he said. But that could change if the Games become too closely associated with America, he cautioned.

"Remember, these are not American Games. These are Olympic Games hosted by Americans. It's extremely important for not just SLOC officials but for the entire country to remember that," he said.

That will be true even during the torch relay to bring the Olympic flame lit in Greece across the United States for the Games' opening ceremonies.

Olympic organizers "must work very hard to celebrate the presence of the Olympic flame without turning its passage into some kind of militaristic celebration," MacAloon said.

"The important thing will be to bring Americans together with the world," he said. "We very, very much need to communicate a compassionate and caring image of ourselves as people among the other peoples of the world. That's what the Olympic are for."


E-mail: lisa@desnews.com

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), October 16, 2001


Response to Olympics still on — for now

Olympics is small time compared to the next world cup in Japan. The insurance companies have backed out. If the worlds biggest media event, and the crown of the worlds biggest sport gets cancelled, the terrorists will be torn apart by their own people.

-- Mark Blaine (ytokca@yahoo.com), October 17, 2001.

Response to Olympics still on — for now

Also in 1980 the Russian olympics were buoycotted by 14 western nations because the Russians were bombing Afghanistan.

-- Mark Blaine (ytokca@yahoo.com), October 17, 2001.

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