Choosing between America’s New South and ancient Greece, the International Olympic Committee selected Atlanta over Athens today as the host city for the 1996 Summer Olympics.
In a six-city campaign, Atlanta won on the fifth ballot, 51 to 35. Atlanta thus became only the third U.S. city chosen to organize a Summer Olympics. St. Louis was the host city in 1904, and Los Angeles had the Games in 1932 and ’84.
The other candidates for 1996 were Toronto; Melbourne, Australia; Manchester, England, and Belgrade, Yugoslavia.
The 1996 Summer Games are particularly significant to the IOC because they will mark the 100th anniversary of the modern Olympics. Athens’ supporters had tried to use that fact to their advantage, since that city had been the host in 1896.
But the IOC chose practicality over sentiment, voting for Atlanta, the more modern city, believing it to be better equipped to organize a successful Olympics.
Athens’ bid was damaged by the city’s traffic, pollution, outmoded telecommunications systems and threats of terrorism because of its proximity to the Middle East.
“We got to the point where we had to decide, in the centennial year, whether we were going to look back or look forward,” said Richard Pound of Montreal, IOC vice president. “We decided that what we were really doing in 1996 was launching our second century.”
The chairman of Atlanta’s bid committee, lawyer William Porter Payne, said he expects the privately financed organizing committee to have a $1-billion budget and to finish with a $200-million profit, which would be contributed to the IOC.
He said the city has about half the sports facilities required and projected that the organizing committee will spend $300 million to $500 million on construction.
The 72,000-seat Georgia Dome, which will become the home of the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons, already is under construction. A larger outdoor stadium also will be built as the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies and the track and field competition. It also may serve as the new home of baseball’s Atlanta Braves.
Since mounting its campaign in 1988, Atlanta has spent $7.3 million, less than any other city except Belgrade, which spent less than $1 million and was eliminated on the first ballot. Manchester was the second city eliminated, followed by Melbourne and Toronto. The lowest finisher on each ballot was dropped.
“I would suspect that anyone close to the Olympic movement, close to the intensive lobbying, would tell you that Atlanta’s bid was not about money,” Payne said. “It was about people. We’re very fortunate to live in a prosperous city, but that had little to do with our victory.”
Payne said Atlanta’s biggest challenge, besides Athens’ claim on the centennial, was persuading IOC members to return the Games to the United States so soon after the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
“They did a good job of convincing the membership that the South is a different country in many respects,” Pound said.