Olympian task for a Renaissance man

Gordon Legge September 6 1982

Olympian task for a Renaissance man

Gordon Legge September 6 1982

Olympian task for a Renaissance man


Gordon Legge

The Montreal Olympics can no more have a deficit than a man can have a baby. —Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau, March 31,1973.

The 1976 Montreal Summer Games did have a deficit, a whopping, corrupt $1-billion deficit. And

David Leighton, the new president of the organizing committee for the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, is keenly aware of Drapeau’s prediction. Participating in a Banff panel on Olympic TV coverage recently, the camera was on him. Said Leighton: “I think we’re going to end up with a surplus but I touch wood when I say that, because who knows what’s going to happen between now and 1988.” Bringing a gold-medal reputation in business and marketing to his new post, the 54-year-old Leighton promises to impose stringent financial controls on the Calgary Games. Leighton assumed the president’s chair in the committee’s sixth-floor office (provided rent-free by Dome Petroleum) of the Home Oil Tower in downtown Calgary on Sept. 1. In a calm voice suggesting wisdom and quiet confidence, he commented, “There is a sense of eagerness to get going, but, yes, a sense of fright at the job that has to be done.”

It is an understandable reaction. For Leighton, who has spent much of his life writing business case studies that have become classics, the Games may prove

to be his most challenging undertaking. Already the timetable has slipped; unexpected snags have occurred; people have failed to keep their word; and many crucial aspects are beyond the organizers’ control.

For one thing, contracts with the three levels of government—municipal, provincial and federal—are nowhere near ready for signatures. And that is in spite of the fact that the Olympic association gave top priority to the signing of the agreements when Cal-

Organizers of the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary are concerned about costs, unsuitable sites and time lost

gary was awarded the Games 11 months ago. But the negotiations have dragged on unsuccessfully since January. The contracts are crucial because they cover fiscal responsibilities, contributed services, international obligations, the legacy of sports facilities and the requisite 12 pages of legal boiler plate. The reason for the holdup, although the city got off the mark quickly, is that the provincial government was slow in appointing an Olympic liaison official to negotiate its contract and the federal government has yet to appoint a liaison officer.

That was only the beginning. Despite public assurances by federal Sports Minister Gerald Regan last spring, the federal government has failed to come up with the $500,000 cheque it promised to help defray immediate expenses. Until a month ago the organizing committee was operating in the red. Then the Alberta government came through with an interim loan of $1.7 million to cover the salaries and travel costs. Not only that, but Ottawa has failed in its promise to push legislation through the Commons to provide financing for the sports betting pool. Proceeds from the'betting pool—along with the sale of stamps and coins—will make up the federal government’s $200-million contribution toward the Games, which are expected to cost $415 million. “We cannot find any substantial element to explain why it [the legislation] has not been brought forward,” said Frank King, chairman of the organizing committee and the man who led the team that put together the successful bid. “The longer we wait, the more difficult it becomes,” he adds. The speculation now is that the legislation will not be put through by the restraintpromoting government until next spring.

Adding to the organizers’ concerns, Calgary Mayor Ralph Klein is worried that if the city does not hold to the sixand five-per-cent federal wage guidelines with its unions, Ottawa’s funding for the Olympics will be held up even further. So far, there has been no actual

threat of cutting off Olympic money. But Ottawa has indicated that it would rather “play ball with those communities that do toe the line,” said Rod Love, the mayor’s executive assistant.

There is also the mess surrounding the approval of the ski sites for the downhill and slalom events. The Olympic committee’s choice is the Spray Lakes Valley in Kananaskis Country, a massive wilderness recreation area bordering Banff National Park. The Olympic group contends that the proposed resort could provide the site for the events as well as leaving an Olympic legacy to Albertans and other Canadians. But almost as soon as the Calgary bid was approved, alpine skiing experts began charging that Mount Sparrowhawk, the site chosen by Olympic officials for the prestigious men’s downhill ski event, was unacceptable because its windswept upper slopes were virtually snow free most of the year. (Not a single developer submitted proposals that included Sparrowhawk in its plans.) Then, a $100,000 provincial report said the Spray Lakes were unsuitable as a recreational ski area. While the Olympic committee rechecked its data, bringing in a Fédération Internationale de Ski official from Switzerland to verify its findings, the provincial government delayed a decision. The government is adamant, however, in its insistence that only one development will be permitted to go ahead, and the major criterion will be economic viability, not Olympic competition standards.

Two weeks ago the province told the five remaining prequalified developers to submit their final proposals. One of those proposals, announced in July by a

joint Canadian-French partnership, calls for a spectacular $750-million, 30,000-skier complex that links four resorts. The grandiose plan features 43 T-bars, lifts and cable cars. It includes both Sparrowhawk and Mount Allen, the only other downhill mountain in the area that meets international competition specifications. A final decision is now expected next January. Meanwhile, a year’s preparation time has been lost.

Despite the concerns, the indomitable Leighton remains unperturbed. “I see him smiling and relaxed and laughing in a way I haven’t seen him in a long time,” says Frances Jackson, the vicepresident of communications who worked closely with Leighton at the Banff Centre, where he was director for the past 12 years. (The centre includes the internationally known Banff School of Fine Arts and the School of Management.) Regarded as a modern-day Renaissance man, Leighton has a doctorate in business administration from Harvard and during his tenure as a professor at the University of Western Ontario he taught many of the nation’s senior executives. Fluent in English, French and German, he has also lectured in the United States and Europe. He sits on the boards of 10 Canadian companies, including Gulf Canada and Rio Algom, and has international contacts extending through every area of endeavor. The sports pages are the first section he turns to in a newspaper, but his real passions are writing and his violin.

Possessed by the “achievement bug,” Leighton is well organized, tireless and always in control, to the point of formality. He leads through example and

has high expectations of those to whom he delegates responsibility. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly, says Peggy, his wife of 31 years. With many admirers and few enemies (Leighton had to demonstrate to the selection committee that he had no enemies in high places), the worst that has been said of him is that he wields an iron hand in a velvet glove. Banff author and critic Jon Whyte describes Leighton as “a very mellowspeaking autocrat.” And Leighton acknowledges: “If you’re in a position of authority, you have to make unpleasant decisions. It’s no fun for anybody. But I don’t think anybody gains by being a nice guy all the time.”

But people most often speak of his generosity of spirit and sense of commitment to everything he undertakes. “When you make a commitment, you live up to it,” says Leighton. “I don’t make them lightly and I certainly don’t break them with impunity.” His dominant characteristic is the herculean energy that he devotes to everything he touches. “He tries as hard as any man I have ever known,” says Jackson.

It is a fitting, and perhaps necessary, attribute for the man charged with overseeing Calgary’s Olympic Games. As Margaret Kopala, an Edmonton film producer, said to the Banff panel: “The Olympics is not just an athletic event. It is one of the most profound of human dramas. It’s not about winning or losing in the conventional sense. It’s about expanding human boundaries. It’s about expanding human experience.” Indeed, Leighton’s and his associates’ boundaries and experience will be sorely tested between now and 1988, with Drapeau’s prediction and Montreal’s legacy never far from their minds.