It turns out Salt Lake City’s movers and shakers aren’t the only ones dishing out lavish gifts for the 2002 Winter Olympics. According to the congressional General Accounting Office, the American taxpayer is kicking in at least $1.4 billion for the scandal-ridden games, perhaps as much as $2 billion.
Of that, the GAO says, only about $200 million is for security and public safety, long considered a legitimate federal contribution for these events. The rest is for such goodies as commuter railways, highway projects, even sewer and water line extensions — the type of federally funded projects other communities wait in line for years to obtain.
In contrast, total federal spending relating to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta was about $605 million, including about $92 million for safety and security, the GAO report said.
Thus, two rules of thumb are broken. First, summer games, which attract much larger crowds and have a wider variety of events, are supposed to be much more expensive to stage. Second, the selection of an Olympics city is supposed to be based to a great degree upon the city’s ability to host the event. Theoretically, Salt Lake City won this prize because it has the necessary natural attributes and infrastructure to bring the winter-sports world to its door. For $1.4 billion, Miami could have built a couple of mountains, hauled in a few zillion cubic yards of snow and offered the world better night life.
Far from being ashamed of this gold-medal performance in the pig-at-the-trough competition, Utah’s congressional delegation is bursting with pride. Rep. Merrill Cook, who in a previous life was fiscally conservative Republican, says he’s a home-town hero for “trying to get everything we can for our Olympics.” Sen. Robert Bennett, also of the usually tight-fisted GOP, says anyone who objects to this spending must have a grudge against world peace and universal brotherhood.
But the reigning champion of the meaningless statement has be Salt Lake Organizing Committee President Mitt Romney: “Our games aren’t gold-plated. They’re galvanized.” Huh?
It’s sad that Utah’s boosters still fail to see the results of their spree of bribery, influence-peddling and excessive spending, but others do. The organizers of the Sydney 2000 summer games report that the Salt Lake/International Olympics Committee scandal has so alienated corporate sponsors that a red-ink bath for their relatively untainted event is a certainty. Potential sponsors, of course, aren’t returning phone calls from the 2002 organizers and already the bidding process for the 2112 summer games is rife with litigation and accusations of under-the-table deals. If the miracle of the Lake Placid games was the victory by the U.S. hockey team, the miracle of Salt Lake City will be the survival of the Olympic movement.
Which is the saddest part of all. At this moment, thousands of earnest young athletes the world over are training, practicing, perfecting for the 2002 games, for what they always thought would be their time to shine upon the world stage. Their quest for glory doesn’t stand a chance against the stench of greed.