Getting it together at the Games

HAL QUINN December 15 1986

Getting it together at the Games

HAL QUINN December 15 1986

Getting it together at the Games


It was the kickoff event to more than a year of pre-Olympic festivities. But when only 3,000 spectators— including 1,500 bused-in schoolchildren—turned out last month to watch two days of world-class ski jumping at Calgary’s new $60-million Canada Olympic Park, the city’s Olympics Organizing Committee (OCO ’88), quickly got the message.

For the second Olympic preview event, this weekend’s World Cup Nordic Combined meet—featuring crosscountry skiing at nearby Canmore and ski jumping off Olympic Park’s spectacular 70-m and 90-m towers—ticket prices were slashed to $5 from $15, with children under 16 admitted free of charge.

“We are going to have to energize this community over the next 14 months,” said Frank King, chairman and chief executive officer-elect of the Calgary committee. “All that we have done to organize the Games won’t count for anything if we don’t get the people behind us. We will change our attitude and we will be all right.” Central to the OCO’s problems have been its relations with Albertans. Last fall, two fiascoes over tickets to the February, 1988, Winter Games severely strained the already tenuous relationship. On Oct. 31 former OCO ticket manager Jim McGregor was charged with fraud and theft for privately selling tickets to U.S. residents. And the OCO compounded the ticket controversy when it agreed to supply what it termed the Olympic familysponsors, governments, national and international Olympic organizations and the media—with the majority of tickets to such popular events as the Games’ opening and closing ceremonies. A public outcry ensued, and the OCO asked those groups to reduce their ticket requests.

Then, Calgary’s outspoken mayor, Ralph Klein, criticized OCO’s closedshop approach to public relations, leading the committee to launch an

in-house inquiry. It concluded that the OCO was sadly negligent in its communications with the public and recommended an immediate reorganization. As a result, King, a 50-year-old oilman, was given the Games’ top position, while the role of William Pratt was reduced from president to chief operating officer.

Those changes, however, were only the latest in a series of turnovers at the OCO. Amid reports of discontent among the OCO’s 275-member staff, president David Leighton, former president of the Banff School of Fine Arts, resigned abruptly in January,

1983. Last July general manager of services John Pickett was fired after disagreeing with Pratt. And Brian Murphy, the respected head of international sports relations, resigned in September, again citing “philosophical differences” with Pratt.

Murphy also charged

that constant staff changes ordered by Pratt had weakened the committee. Last week King diplomatically rejected suggestions that the new managers had sidelined Pratt. “An organization with a lot to get done needs men like Bill Pratt,” declared King, whose new position gives him overall responsibility for the Games. “It is a mixing and matching of talents.”

But the OCO did receive encouraging reviews of its ski jump from athletes competing in the inaugural competition. Said Czechoslovakia’s Jiri Parma, after winning the 90-m event with a jump of 113.5 m: “Canada should be proud of the facility.”

However, Parma also expressed the jumpers’ concern over wind conditions. Calgary’s unpredictable Chinooks at times threatened to buffet jumpers off course. The warm winds also melted snow in the landing area, forcing volunteers to pack 600 bags of trucked-in snow up the steep 70-m run.

The lack of snow delayed the scheduled opening of the controversial Mt. Allan Alpine skiing site until last week. The Alberta government has spent $25.3 million on the Olympic resort, but critics claim that the race course— for slalom and downhill competitions —is not steep enough and is subject to strong winds. The entire area, they contend, lacks sufficient snowfall. However, the Olympic mountain now boasts a computer-operated snowmaking system that snakes through 36 km of pipe buried in two-metredeep trenches.

But because no private developer could be found to build and operate the facility, the

provincial government financed it and now leases the complex to a private company, Ski Kananaskis Inc. The government also guaranteed $14 million in loans to support luxury hotels near Mt. Allan, including a $3-million guarantee to the Mountain Inn, an $ll-million project whose president is AÍ Olson, Premier Don Getty’s leadership campaign manager.

Even the nonsporting Olympic events have not been free of controversy. Calgary’s Glenbow Museum is planning an exhibit of 1,700 native artifacts as the centrepiece of the $2.6-million Olympics Arts Festival. But the 400-member Lubicon Lake Indian Band of northern Alberta is campaigning for an international boycott by contributing museums because the band’s 46-year-old land claims have not been settled. Said Lubicon chief Bernard Ominayak, who last month took his case to European legislature members: “It is hypocritical to glorify the Indians in a museum exhibit while the government opposes rights of native people.” The dispute broadened last month when University of Calgary anthropologist Joan Ryan charged that Glenbow director Duncan Cameron had tried to use Canadian embassies to encourage foreign muse-

ums to lend the artifacts, a charge ignored by Cameron.

At the same time, the OCO officials angered many local artists. They commissioned a French couple to create the Games’ central sculpture, which was to adorn the Olympic Plaza in downtown Calgary. The plaza is being paved by bricks inscribed with messages from Calgarians. The cost of a 21-letter message: $19.88. But following vocal protests by the city’s artistic community, the OCO informed the French artists that their services would not be required and reopened the competition.

Despite the problems, the Olympic flame is kindling interest. The OCO already has orders and official allocations for half of the 1.7 million tickets for the Games’ 128 events, including three demonstration sports—curling, freestyle skiing, and short-track speed skating. All 48,055 seats for the opening ceremonies have been sold, as have all tickets for the figure skating

and hockey finals, and 17 other events.

The OCO is pressing sponsors such as the Labatt Brewing Co. Ltd. and CocaCola Ltd., three levels of government and ABC TV —which paid a record $426 million for the Games’ broadcast rights—to reduce their ticket requests. The city of Calgary has already cut its order by a third, to 2,000 tickets, assisting the OCO in its attempt to make more seats available to the public.

With the Games still 14 months away, King remains optimistic. “The facilities are nailed down and the financial forces are in place,” he said. “Enthusiasm is infectious. We will get the level up.” To that end, he seemed determined to change perceptions of the Olympic committee. Indeed, his first recommendation to the OCO executive: to open OCO board meetings to the public in the new year.


-HAL QUINN with JOHN HOWSE in Calgary