Earlier this year, Toronto Olympic Council president Paul Henderson mused about the emotional allure of the Olympic Games. “You walk into the stadium and there isn’t a dry eye in the place,” said the millionaire Toronto businessman, former Olympic yachtsman and architect of Toronto’s bid to host the 1996 Olympics. “I don’t know what it is,” he added. “Thirteen out of 14 athletes never win.” Last week, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded the 1996 Games to Atlanta, passing over Toronto and four other cities, Henderson—who never won an Olympic medal as a sailor— was again on the sidelines of victory.
The decision emerged after five secret ballots cast by the IOC’s 86 voting members in Tokyo. There, representatives from the rival cities— the others were Athens; Melbourne, Australia; Manchester, England; and Belgrade,
Yugoslavia—gathered to make their final presentations. The vote marked the end of a fiveyear, $ 15-million campaign led by Henderson, officials from three levels of government and Canada’s corporate chiefs to bring the Games to Toronto. A bitter Henderson immediately blamed the media, local opposition groups and some members of Toronto city council for the
loss, claiming that they created the impression among IOC members that the city did not fully support the bid. “I firmly believe that the Olympics will never go to a city like Toronto,” said Henderson. “For anything you do, there will be a percentage of people against you. Our diversity—which is our great strength—is also our greatest weakness.”
Local officials and Olympic supporters swiftly countered that it was Henderson himself who weakened the city’s bid with his controversial personal diplomacy. Others pointed out that Atlanta had clearly outperformed its competitors: in Tokyo, the U.S. city’s 350member delegation gave each IOC member a compact disc player, while Toronto’s 80-member delegation handed out cans labelled “Canned 9 beaver” and “Canned moose” with pop-up stuffed i animals. As well, a 1990 internal report by a four-member IOC team ranked Atlanta first, Toronto second and Athens last in terms of each city’s ability to host the Games. The headquarters of the Coca-Cola Co. and the 24hour-a-day Cable News Network, Atlanta also held out the promise of lucrative corporate sponsorships. In addition, CNN president Ted Turner put out the word that he would be willing to provide a free television feed of the
Games to developing nations, if Atlanta won.
Atlanta’s victory was a disappointment for Athens. Its delegation had argued that the Greek capital had a historical right to host the Games, because 1996 will be the 100th anniversary of the modem Olympics—which were first held in Athens. But IOC members said that Athens’s poor facilities, pollution and lack of security, as well as its proprietary attitude, contributed to its failure. For her part, Greek delegate and actress Melina Mercouri charged that U.S. corporate power had robbed Greece of its Olympic mantle. Said Mercouri: “CocaCola won over the Parthenon temple.” Meanwhile, Henderson’s critics say that he may have contributed to the impression that Toronto’s bid lacked wide local support because his campaign often seemed like a oneman show. Henderson once issued a directive to the Toronto Olympic Council’s staff saying that he was the only person permitted to discuss the bid with visiting IOC members. Said Piijo Haggman, the IOC member for Finland: “Paul Henderson is a wonderful person, but he did it almost alone. He had a group behind him, but, for IOC members, it seemed like it was he who was doing the travelling.” Wrote Toronto Star sports columnist Jim Proudfoot: “He in5 sisted on conducting strictly an individual cam§ paign. Too much hinged on Henderson’s charm or lack of same. The bid was wrong and it was jg handled wrongly by the wrong guy.”
But many Torontonians, and indeed, many Canadians, mourned the loss of the Games. Some of the 4,000 supporters who gathered to watch the IOC decision via satellite on the Toronto SkyDome’s giant video screen burst balloons intended for a victory celebration and left in tears. Proponents had claimed that the Olympics would have led to the construction of valuable new facilities, including an Olympic Village of 5,700 housing units, which would have been converted into social housing after the competition. But the disappointment—following Toronto’s failed bid to host the world’s fair in the year 2000—did not appear to dampen the enthusiasm among some of the city’s corporate elite for megaprojects. Paul Godfrey, a director of the Toronto Olympic Council and publisher of The Toronto Sun, says he is working on a bid to bring a National Football League franchise to Toronto—in the event that the teetering Canadian Football League collapses. Said Godfrey: “On the presumption that the CFL went out of business, I could put a bid on the table tomorrow. The fact is, the NFL is seriously looking at expansion in the early 1990s.”
At week’s end, the 55-year-old Henderson had already returned to his family-owned plumbing business. He said that it would be foolish for Toronto to mount another campaign for the Olympics before bidding begins to host the 2008 Games. The reason: the IOC customarily rotates the Games among continents. Asked if he would oversee another Olympic drive in the next millennium, Henderson let out a sharp laugh and blurted, “If I’m still alive”— and if he is asked.
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