CANADA

Striving for the gold

Toronto bids for the 1996 Summer Olympics

PAUL KAIHLA August 13 1990
CANADA

Striving for the gold

Toronto bids for the 1996 Summer Olympics

PAUL KAIHLA August 13 1990

Striving for the gold

CANADA

Toronto bids for the 1996 Summer Olympics

The two men stood on the spongy Astroturf gazing up at the glass windows of the SkyDome Hotel, which forms the back wall of the 50,000-seat stadium where the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team battles its American League rivals. Paul Henderson, a Toronto businessman and chief architect of the city’s campaign to host the 1996 Summer Olympics, was explaining to Ashwini Kumar, India’s representative on the International Olympic Committee (IOC), how the domed stadium would make an excellent Olympic site if the Games were held in Toronto. But Kumar, who will meet with 87 other IOC members in Tokyo next month to award the Games to one of six competing cities, had a more urgent matter on his mind. “Was this the place where two people made love in the window during a ball game?” asked the 69-year-old Kumar, gesturing at the hotel in amazement. Henderson replied in the affirmative, grasped Kumar’s arm and joked: “When you get your room, Ashwini, you’ll have to remember to keep the curtains closed.”

The exchange was customary of the goodnatured banter that Henderson uses as he tries to sell Toronto’s Olympic bid to visiting IOC members. As president of the Toronto Ontario Olympic Council, the city’s bid team, Henderson has cajoled various levels of government,

recruited corporate sponsors and wined and dined 78 of the IOC’s members in pursuit of Toronto’s Olympic dream. A yachtsman who served on Canada’s sailing team in the 1964, 1968 and 1972 Olympics, Henderson has a robust style that has sparked controversies.

But Toronto has mounted one of the strongest bids in a field of competitors that includes Athens; Atlanta; Melbourne, Australia; Manchester, England; and Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Among the features of Toronto’s proposal, which received final approval from city council in April: an Olympics that will produce a $10million profit, a new 80,000-seat Olympic stadium and $2 billion in spin-offs for the Ontario economy. Concluded Kumar: “You have an excellent bid.”

Kumar and his IOC colleagues, who are chosen to sit on the top Olympic body after a career in sports, will select the winning bid in a series of secret ballots on Sept. 18, in Tokyo. Athens is the sentimental favorite. The marathon run was bom there in 490 BC, and 1996 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the modem Games in that city. But Athens is suffering from traffic congestion, poor facilities and concerns about Greece’s ability to guard against potential terrorist attacks.

While that city is currently spending $2.5 billion just to upgrade its airport and infrastruc-

ture, Henderson says that Toronto already has modem facilities and excellent security. As well, because Toronto is in North America’s eastern time zone, it could draw more lucrative television rights—a powerful inducement for IOC members since the committee receives 40 per cent of those revenues.

To make the final arguments for Toronto’s case, Premier David Peterson is scheduled to head a 70-member delegation to Tokyo. It will include Henderson, Toronto Mayor Arthur Eggleton and corporate supporters such as Brascan President Trevor Eyton. Another possible delegate is Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, but he had not confirmed his plans last week.

Toronto’s Olympic campaign has also attracted some dedicated critics who charge that the Games would consume scarce public and private funds that could be better used to fight Toronto’s growing urban problems. Said Michael Shapcott, spokesman for Bread not Circuses, a coalition of 56 community groups opposed to the Olympic bid: “We are not against sport—we are opposed to billions of dollars being spent on a 16-day sports spectacular at a time when money is needed for poverty, housing and the environment.”

Critics also say that the cost and revenue projections of the Toronto bid are confusing. To mount the Olympics, Toronto would have to build three major facilities: a $125-million Olympic Stadium, which would replace a 42year-old facility on the Canadian National Exhibition grounds; a $90-million, three-pool aquatic complex to be built at Ontario Place, a lakeside tourist attraction; and a $ 10-million velodrome for bicycle races. Olympic athletes would be housed in 5,700 apartment units on

two downtown sites, which are already in various stages of development.

According to the Toronto committee’s official bid book, the overall cost of the Games would be $1.053 billion, with revenues of $1.063 billion, producing a profit of $10 million. But in January, a report by the City of Toronto’s commissioner of finances, George Clarke, reached a different conclusion. It said that when estimates of indirect costs such as housing (which the Olympic bid officials note is being built whether or not Toronto gets the

Games) are taken into account, the Games would cost all levels of government $2.52 billion, against revenues of $2.43 billion, leaving a deficit of $90 million. Said Bruce Kidd, former Olympic long-distance runner and a member of the Toronto Olympic Council’s board of directors: “As with any public budget, there is a lot of deliberate mystification. But I have no doubt that the Games will break even. I support the Toronto Olympics.”

In January, Henderson told a York University student in a taped conversation that the Olympics council had intentionally not listed about $70 million in potential revenues from the rental of corporate boxes in the SkyDome in its official bid book. According to tape excerpts, which the student later gave to Bread not Circuses and reporters, Henderson said, “We’ve kept that out of our documents” because the Canadian Olympic Association and the IOC would automatically take a share. He added, “If you make a profit, 50 per cent has got to go to the Canadian Olympic Association to piss away on whatever they do with it, and another 10 per cent has got to go to the International Olympic Committee, who have got more money than they need. So my job is to keep as much money in Toronto as I can.” But Henderson told Maclean’s last week that the transcript is misleading. For one thing, he says that his discussion with the student dealt only with hypothetical scenarios in the

way that “a professor talks to a student.” As well. Henderson pointed out that the potential for revenues from corporate boxes is mentioned in a document that the Toronto bid committee sent to four of the 11 members of the IOC’s executive board last year. And in April, Henderson also discussed corporate box revenues with IOC officials. “So who is trying to hide anything?” said Henderson. “I can’t defend every backroom quip I make.” Still, Bread not Circuses sent a transcript of the interview to all of the IOC’s voting members and president

Juan Antonio Samaranch. Said Kidd, now a professor of physical education at the University of Toronto: “Some IOC members are going to be offended by the statement that the IOC already has too much money. But they know that each bid city is going to fight like hell to keep the money in their communities.”

Last week, IOC members visiting Toronto showed rio sign of concern over Henderson’s remarks. In fact, his personal friendships with many IOC members may be one of the city’s strongest selling points. Henderson and Kumar have been friends for almost a decade. Said Kumar, after his tour of the SkyDome last week: “You know what the most outstanding thing in this building is? Paul Henderson. I mean that.” And at a reception at Toronto City Hall for Kumar and two other IOC members, Jamaica’s Anthony Bridge complimented Henderson for keeping the campaign low-key. “No one here is saying, ‘You have to vote for me,’ ” said Bridge. “Some cities try a high-pressure approach, and it doesn’t always work.” Henderson, 55, has tried to bring the Olympics to Toronto before. He worked as a volunteer on a bid for the 1976 Olympics, but the Games went to Montreal that year. In 1985, Henderson decided to pursue the Olympics again with two friends from the exclusive Royal Canadian Yacht Club, where he is a member. Since then, he has built a $14-million war chest for Toronto’s bid, with $3.1 million in contribu-

tions from the provincial government, $2.4 million from Ottawa and the rest from more than 80 corporate donors. A millionaire from a family-owned plumbing contracting business, Henderson works 80-hour weeks on the bid and refuses to accept any salary.

Meanwhile, his 22-member staff ensures that visiting IOC members receive royal treatment. Usual stops on members’ itineraries: Toronto Blue Jays games viewed from Premier Peterson’s box at the SkyDome and a visit with the Ontario leader at his Queen’s Park legislature office. Last week, Kumar and Bridge were treated to lunch at The Toronto Hunt, a private club where members pay $15,000 in initiation fees, and the best seats for a performance of the international hit musical Phantom of the Opera. In the evening they went sailing aboard the Catatonia, a 30-foot yacht owned by one of Henderson’s friends, before dining at the Yacht Club. As well, Henderson’s staff chauffeured Bridge to Niagara Falls “just so I could see it,” the Jamaican said.

But sometimes, IOC members’ requests go beyond mere courtesy. One associate of Henderson's arranged a job interview for the grandson of a South American IOC member at the prestigious Toronto law firm Tory Tory DesLauriers & Binnington. “He wanted to work in a law office here for six months,” Henderson said. “So a lawyer we were travelling with got him an interview with a couple of law firms here. I don’t view it as a favor. It would happen anywhere.”

Still, Toronto’s entertaining is discreet compared with Atlanta’s high-powered bid. In that city, bid organizers have ferried IOC members around in stretch limousines with police escorts and treated them to marching bands and dinners on the gold-studded yacht that belonged to billionaire Malcolm Forbes, who died in February. At the stadium at the Georgia Institute of Technology, organizers choreographed hundreds of students dressed in multicolored jerseys to form the five-ring Olympic symbol before 10 IOC members in the reviewing stand. Olympic boosters claim that they have won strong support among African and tropical nations because of former mayor Andrew Young’s prominence as a black spokesman. Said Anani Matthia, an IOC member from Togo: “Any man who has helped further the cause of black people interests me.”

But with only six weeks to go before the showdown in Tokyo, Atlanta’s organizers were citing Toronto as their closest rival, with Melbourne running a close second and Athens as “a wild card,” in the words of William Payne, head of Atlanta’s bid committee. For his part, Henderson says that Athens remains a sentimental favorite for the IOC. “If they decide that Athens is up to the job, then it’s all over on the first ballot.” No matter which city wins, Henderson’s odyssey will soon come to an end. Even if Toronto wins, he says that he will “go back to the plumbing shop” and turn down any offers to act as the Olympics’ chief organizer.

BERT ROUGHTON JR.

PAUL KAIHLA with BERT ROUGHTON JR. in Atlanta