THE WINTER OLYMPICS

Countdown to Calgary

HAL QUINN October 5 1987
THE WINTER OLYMPICS

Countdown to Calgary

HAL QUINN October 5 1987

Countdown to Calgary

THE WINTER OLYMPICS

Juan Antonio Samaranch’s visit to Calgary had more to do with straightforward protocol than the labyrinthine politics of amateur sport. Last week the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) arrived to dine with Frank King, chairman of the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics organizing committee (OCO), and Donald Getty, premier of the host province. Making his last official pre-Games visit to the site, Samaranch toured the University of Calgary’s expanded physical education facilities, lunched with officials of the university and the federal government, officially opened the $39.9-million indoor speed-skating oval, dedicated the city’s Olympic Plaza— where medals will be awarded during the Games next Feb. 1328—and enjoyed B.C. salmon with OCO officials. Even from the limousine that whisked him on his appointed rounds, the former Spanish diplomat could see that $400 million worth of facilities for the XV Olympic Winter Games were ready.

During his three-day visit the IOC president frequently heard that, despite internal political problems, the most expensive Winter Olympics ever held are on budget. OCO’s internal fighting became painfully public again shortly before Samaranch’s visit— with the resignation of Frank Fleming, one of several volunteers to step down (page 45). But in that case, at least, one of OCO’s strongest critics—voluble Calgary Mayor Ralph Klein—remained silent. In June, at Samaranch’s request, Klein formed a committee to advise OCO on its public relations and image problems. Since then, Klein has supported the organizing committee more and criticized it less. Impressing the mayor, and nearly everyone associated with the Games, are OCO’s almost daily announcements of programs de-

signed to create a festival atmosphere during the Games. Said Klein: “There has been some real progress. There has been an attitude change, and things are finally coming together.”

Indeed, after years of controversy— almost always part of staging an Olympics—most Calgarians seem determined to make the Games a success.

And it is beginning to appear that that will happen. After announcing Sept. 9 that a series of international hot-air balloon races will be held during the Games, OCO chairman King said: “In some ways we have paid more attention to public enjoyment than to the Olympic events themselves. We have deliberately organized things so that people can have fun with lots of things that are free.”

Among those events will be a nightly outdoor laser show followed by a fireworks extravaganza. The city is also creating a giant outdoor international tent city, featuring ethnic foods and entertainment. And there will be an international outdoor icesculpting competition in addition to a $11.5-million arts festival. The events are all part of the most expensive

Winter Olympics in history. And the Calgary Games are also proving to be the most popular in history among athletes. A record 60 countries are expected to send teams—totalling at least 2,600 athletes and coaches—11 more nations than competed at the last Winter Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia in 1984.

The total cost is rapidly approaching $1 billion—more than double the projected $415-million cost when Calgary was awarded the Games six years ago. (The 1984 Winter Games in Yugoslavia cost less than $182 million.) Said OCO vice-chairman Robert Niven: “We planned a half-billion-dollar Games, and now we are going to have a $1billion one. But it’s not that things are out of control. It’s that our revenues have far exceeded our wildest expectations.”

OCO has raised more than $400 million from the sale of television rights, sponsorships and other revenue-generating programs such as ticket sales. In sponsorship alone, the organizers surpassed the budget objective by more than 60 per cent and now expect to bank more than $80 million, ac-

cording to marketing vice-president William Wardle. Combined with government contributions exceeding $425 million, OCO officials claim that everything is on target and on budget. Said King: “With the exception of a major catastrophe, we have all the money we require. You don’t have to worry about costs if you have people you can trust to keep tabs on expenses and remain within budget. People are the key.”

Canadian Olympic Association president Roger Jackson, who sits on the OCO executive board, is equally upbeat. Said Jackson: “The good news is that construction is virtually complete, and there were no surprises. Overall we are on time and on bud-

get. We have bits and pieces left, but the huge lump is over.” In Canada’s only other Olympic experience, the 1976 Summer Oympics in Montreal, frantic last-minute construction helped bring the Games in more than $1 billion over budget. In sharp contrast, Calgary’s venues were ready months ahead of time. In fact, most facilities were tested last winter. The final major project, the $39.9-million speed-skating oval, was officially opened by Samaranch at week’s end.

The major challenge remaining is training and motivating 9,400 Games volunteers. Said Jackson: “We’ve identified clearly to staff and senior management what is left to be done, what they can and cannot do.” Citing the resignation of speed-skating coordinator Fleming as a setback, Jack-

son said the key is to keep morale high, both among volunteers and executive staff. “I don’t see excessive pressure, tension or lack of control,” Jackson added. “I see everybody in pretty good spirits.”

According to King, the Games’ $150,000-per-year chief executive officer, OCO has done its job of telling the world that Calgary will host the greatest Winter Games in history. “The worst thing that can happen is not that costs get out of control but that we don’t deliver the product we promised,” King said. “Now it’s time for the production and delivery departments, for the people, to take over. The more you promise, the more is expected of you.”

OCO’s early promise was tarnished almost from the start over ticket problems. Said King: “We’ve had our share of controversies, and we really escaped them all, except for the ticketing one. It was the toughest of any challenge we faced.”

Virtually every major event was oversubscribed—by Calgarians alone— the day tickets went on sale a year ago. In response, the organizing committee expanded the spectator capacity wherever possible. The expansion of facilities created an additional 200,000 tickets for international markets and special Games ticket packages were created. OCO also reduced the number of tickets set aside for sponsors and other Games officials, making thousands more tickets available to the public. Admitted King: “It was an area

in which we were the least prepared. We were overwhelmed. We had no idea the demand was there. When 10 people want every seat to some events, there is no way you can satisfy them.”

Ticket demand focused on the most glamorous and popular events—the opening and closing ceremonies, figure skating and hockey finals. Still, at week’s end, more than 500,000 of the 1.9 million Games tickets remained unsold, including those to 68 events. At least two events on every single day of the 16-day program were available. Although the remaining tickets are not for the glamor events, according to King, all ticket holders will enjoy being in Calgary next February. “It is going to be an emotional happening,”

King said. “It will be fun to be here. The streets will be swarming with SWAT teams of entertainers. In Los Angeles in 1984, there were more people outside the Coliseum than inside. The guys outside were having their own Olympic experience. It will be like that in Calgary.”

OCO vice-chairman Niven was also clearly enthusiastic. Declared Niven: “Everywhere people go in Calgary next February, there will be an air of celebration. The city is going to come unglued. Not only the Cjty of Calgary, but all of Canada is going to light up.” No doubt, if the Games are simply wellrun and within budget, Juan Antonio Samaranch will also be pleased.

HAL QUINN

JOHN HOWSE