1994 Winter Games Host to Be Named Thursday
The International Olympic Committee has the announcement of the host city for the 1994 Winter Games scheduled to the precise second.
The ceremony will begin Thursday at 6 p.m. (1 a.m. PDT) in the garden of the plush Hotel Shilla, followed by the announcement at 15 seconds after 6:49. Officials from the triumphant city then will have four minutes to celebrate before they sign the contract with the IOC at 15 seconds after 6:53.
Only the identity of the fortunate city has been left to guesswork.
“It’s a two-horse race,” a prominent IOC member said this week, specifically mentioning Sofia, Bulgaria, and Oestersund, Sweden.
Apparently out of consideration are the United States’ designated bid city, Anchorage, and Lillehammer, Norway.
When the 86 IOC members vote Thursday afternoon, one candidate will be eliminated on each ballot until a city has majority support. Anchorage is expected to go out on the second ballot, after lagging Lillehammer, and the winner probably will be the city that attracts the Alaska city’s voters.
Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, finished second to Albertville, France, in the voting two years ago for the host city of the 1992 Winter Games and was an almost prohibitive favorite for 1994 until its support began to wane earlier this year. Some IOC members say that the Bulgarians were overconfident and quit campaigning too early.
Virtually all of Sofia’s votes two years ago came from the Eastern Bloc, but there has been speculation that IOC members of those countries are no longer enthusiastic about the bid because of the Bulgarian government’s reluctance to follow the Soviet lead toward a policy of glasnost .
Ivan Slavkov, Bulgaria’s IOC member and the son-in-law of the country’s president, said he had heard that criticism but scoffed at it.
“We invented glasnost 15 years ago,” he said. “We just didn’t talk about it. It’s not polite, you know, to stay ahead of Big Brother.”
Despite its questionable ambiance, Sofia has obvious advantages over Oestersund. The Bulgarian capital is a large city with a population of 1.2 million. Yet all of its proposed venue sites are within 12 miles of downtown, a plus for television networks concerned about production costs.
Oestersund, a city of 65,000, may benefit from IOC guilt. This is the ninth time that a Swedish city has been part of a bid for the Winter Games, but the country has never been host to them.
The previous Swedish bid city, Falun, was considered unacceptable because it was a six-hour drive from Are, its site for Alpine skiing. Oestersund also plans to use Are, which has a world-class downhill course but is only an hour’s drive from the city.
IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, who does not vote but has influence over the other members, is believed to be torn between the two cities. Although he feels obligated to the Soviet Bloc for those countries’ support of the Seoul Olympics, the IOC might be closer to its coveted Nobel Prize for peace if the Games are awarded to Sweden. The Nobel Prize for peace, awarded by a Norwegian committee, is usually given out in Stockholm.
Anchorage, which also was the U.S. bid city for the 1992 Games, was considered a strong second until it began to lose momentum last year.
One problem was the U.S. State Department’s denial of a visa to a Chilean shooter for the 1987 Pan American Games at Indianapolis. He was denied the visa because he allegedly murdered and tortured anti-government demonstrators while he was serving in the military.
Although the State Department took the moral high ground, its action violated the Pan American Games charter that states that all athletes accredited by their countries should be allowed to enter the host country.
Despite assurances from President Reagan, Secretary of State George Schulz and Under-Secretary of State Edward Derwinski to the contrary, IOC members fear that the State Department might also bar athletes in the future for less discriminating reasons.
“Their visa problems are like a virus,” said Richard Pound, an IOC vice president from Canada. “They come back at the most inopportune moments.”
There also are doubts about the support that the Anchorage bid committee has from its own city, even though a recent referendum in support of the Olympic effort won by a 2-1 margin.
“That means every third person there is against the Olympics,” said Wolf Lyberg, the secretary general of the Swedish Olympic Committee. He says that Oestersund has 95% community support.
Adding to Anchorage’s discomfort is a perception that it doesn’t have support from the U.S. Olympic Committee, despite that organization’s blessing of the bid over other interested U.S. cities twice within the last three years. If Anchorage loses this time, it will have to win over the USOC again next year if it is to bid in 1991 for the 1998 Winter Games.
“There’s some disappointment on the part of IOC members that (Anchorage officials) haven’t done much in constructing facilities,” USOC Executive Director Baaron Pittenger told reporters last Saturday. “I don’t know that it’s a legitimate criticism, but it’s a criticism I’ve heard.”
Since Anchorage officials never promised to start construction before they won the bid, Pittenger’s comments were interpreted as an attempt to distance the USOC from the candidate.
In denying that, Pittenger said: “It’s not correct to say the USOC has distanced itself from Anchorage. I think there are some people within (the USOC) who are concerned about how much a set of facilities in Anchorage will help promote the development of winter sports in the United States. But I think we’ve given Anchorage full support.”
An Anchorage official, however, speculated this week that USOC President Robert Helmick, one of two U.S. representatives to the IOC, would not vote for Anchorage. Helmick denied that, saying that he has campaigned on behalf of the city.
One plus for Anchorage is that it may be more attractive to U.S. television networks and sponsors for the 1994 Winter Games. The IOC is entering uncharted territory at that time in staging the Winter Games in a different year from the Summer Olympics.
There is concern that the 1994 Winter Games, coming so soon after the 1992 Winter and Summer Games, will not be a commercial success unless they are held in the United States, where most of the events could be televised to the lucrative North American market live in prime time.
But that may no longer be considered an important factor after CBS paid $243 million, much higher than expected, for the rights to the 1992 Albertville Winter Games, which for the most part will not be televised live in prime time.