Atlanta Selected to Host Olympic Games in 1996

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Atlanta staged the first upset of the 1996 Olympics on Tuesday, winning the right to host the games over sentimental favorite Athens and four other cities.

The announcement here by the president of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain, triggered a massive celebration in Atlanta and recriminations by some bitter Athens representatives.

“I feel like an exclamation point has just been placed by our city in the eyes of the world,” said Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, who was moved to tears during the city’s emotional presentation to the IOC earlier in the day.


“We’re not going to bid again ever,” said the Athens committee chairman, Spyros Metaxas. “Never.”

On the fifth and final ballot by the IOC, Atlanta received 51 votes to 35 for Athens. Belgrade, Yugoslavia, was eliminated on the first ballot, followed by Manchester, England, on the second, Melbourne, Australia, on the third, and Toronto, on the fourth. Most of Toronto’s votes switched to Atlanta, providing the victory margin.

Athens had been an early favorite because it had hosted the first of the modern Olympics in 1896, as well as representing the country that originated the games.

But, ultimately, a majority of IOC members decided that they could not entrust the Centennial Games to a city that has been plagued by an unstable government, stifling traffic and pollution and fears of terrorism because of its proximity to the Middle East.

Needing a new airport, subway extensions, reconstructed highways and modern telecommunications systems, Athens’ officials estimated the city’s infrastructure expenditures at $8 billion.

“I told the Athens people that I didn’t want to see them win on sentiment,” said Kevin O’Flanagan, an IOC member from Ireland. “The IOC had to choose the best possible place to hold the Olympics, and, in this case, that was Atlanta. It is a modern, first-class city.”


“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 IOC vice president Richard Pound of Montreal. “We decided that what we were really doing in 1996 was launching our second century.”

Atlanta waged a two-year, $7.3-million campaign that made it only the third U.S. city to host the Summer Olympics after St. Louis (1904) and Los Angeles (1932, 1984). The city’s bid was helped by a unified, broad-based coalition of business, political and civil rights leaders.

It was the only city that could make such a claim. Most damaged by dissent from its city was Toronto, where a small but vocal group, “Bread Not Circuses,” charged that the Games would create financial and environmental havoc. Two members of the group brought their protest Monday to the lobby of the IOC’s hotel, where they pitched a tent and called it “The People’s Hospitality Suite.” A protest group by the same name also was active in Melbourne.

The announcement was beamed by satellite to a festive gathering in Atlanta, where the news was greeted with jubilation. In Tokyo, some members of Athens’ bid committee were gracious in defeat, saying that they understood the IOC’s decision.

“We’re going into new times, and we have to accept what’s happening and look into the future,” former Athens mayor Militades Evert said.

But others reacted bitterly.

Upon hearing Samaranch’s announcement, one woman from the Athens section stood and pointed an accusing finger at the celebrating Atlantans.


“Money won out over history,” she said.

Greek actress Melina Mercouri, the country’s former minister of culture, protested that Coca Cola, a major Olympic sponsor that has its corporate headquarters in Atlanta, provided the money that allowed the city to buy the election.

“Coca Cola won over the Parthenon,” she said.

Coca Cola officials maintained throughout the campaign that they were neutral.

Athens spent $25 million on its bid, more than any of the other cities. Only Belgrade, with a budget of less than $1 million, spent less than Atlanta’s $7.3 million.

But there is little question that Atlanta’s financial picture was extremely attractive to the IOC. The president of the city’s bid committee, lawyer William Porter Payne, estimated the cost of organizing the Games at $1 billion and said that a projected $200-million profit will be donated to the IOC.

Payne said that Atlanta has 50% of the required sports facilities already in place. A 72,000-seat Georgia Dome, which will become home to the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons, already is under construction and will be the venue for basketball and gymnastics.

Another 85,000-seat, outdoor stadium, which will be the home of baseball’s Atlanta Braves, will be the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies and the track and field competition. Other facilities will be built for tennis, cycling, shooting, equestrian events, archery, canoeing and rowing.

Construction costs are estimated at about $420 million. An economic impact study commissioned by the bid committee reported that the state of Georgia will gain $3.48 billion from the Games, one reason that Jackson said Atlanta’s bid had the support of all political factions.


Pound said Toronto faltered because Canada, which has a population of only 28 million, has had two Olympics in 14 years, the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal and the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary.

Melbourne was eliminated, he said, because of Australia’s distance from the other continents and also because it proposed to stage the Games during its spring months of September and October. Atlanta’s Games are tentatively scheduled for late July and early August, a period when summer athletes prefer to peak.

Peaking at the right moment is a concept the Atlanta committee obviously understands. Entering the race only two years ago after earning the right over Minneapolis-St. Paul to represent the U.S. Olympic Committee, the Atlantans began as rank outsiders.

But they had a dynamic advocate in Andrew Young, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under former President Jimmy Carter and, until recently, Atlanta’s mayor. Young chairs the Atlanta Organizing Committee.

“There’s no doubt he gave us a great deal of credibility on the international scene,” said the vice president of Atlanta’s bid, Charles Battle.

Young, a former aide to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is popular with Third World IOC members. Often invoking King’s name, he traded heavily on Atlanta’s recent civil rights history at a time when the IOC is continuing its tough anti-apartheid stance.


Young cried when the result was announced.