City Perseveres Among Rubble, Lost Rubles : Goodwill Games: Glitches, financial losses can’t be ignored on final day, but St. Petersburg shows spunk.
Attempting to find a niche alongside the Olympics and other international, multi-sport competitions, Goodwill Games officials closed their latest effort here Sunday having gained only a more profound sense of the lengths they still must go.
Goodwill Games’ founder Ted Turner and the host city lost millions of dollars that they will not be able to recoup soon. The event attracted little interest from U.S. television viewers or potential ticket buyers here.
Many of the more than 2,000 athletes from 50 nations who competed over a 17-day period were similarly unenthused, and some who sought to give their all were sabotaged by a swimming pool without clean water, an ice rink without ice and organizers without much organization. Add this to the list of oxymorons: St. Petersburg Organizing Committee.
While covering the Goodwill Games, journalists from several countries who are veterans of multi-sport competitions discussed whether there has been one with more apparent flaws in recent years, and while it is impossible to make a judgment objectively, that the question was asked is indictment enough.
There is, however, another perspective on the third Goodwill Games. Among those who did not grade them solely as an athletic competition but also as a test of an economically and politically unsure city’s ability to direct its resources toward a common goal, the consensus was that the first international multi-sport event in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union was a triumph.
“I think about the organization, the way they have overcome real problems here, and I have to say that these Games have been a stunning success,” said Jack Gosnell, U.S. Consulate General in St. Petersburg.
Bill Woodruff, a Goodwill Games consultant from Los Angeles, said that he had serious doubts about whether the event would occur in St. Petersburg when he first visited the city in 1992. He changed his mind only nine months ago.
“When you consider what they’ve been able to do here under difficult circumstances, it’s amazing,” he said.
The cost was high. St. Petersburg spent $70 million in expenses directly related to the Games and perhaps as much on projects designed to improve the city’s infrastructure, which Mayor Anatoly Sobchak said was necessary to assure that the more than 400 historical sites will continue to be tourist attractions. Critics contend the money would have been spent more wisely on social services, and anti-Sobchak graffiti became increasingly evident as the Games progressed.
Mikhail Bobrov, the city’s most celebrated hero from World War II and a member of the organizing committee, said the Games’ opponents are in the minority.
“At the very beginning, everyone said, ‘Why are you wasting energy and time?’ ” he said. “Now, they see the results. The roads have been repaired, the buildings polished, the bridges repaired. We even have additional buses.”
Also refurbished were sports stadiums and arenas. Although the administration of some of them--the SKA Swimming Pool and the Yubileiny Sports Palace in particular--was found wanting, they will be used for future international competitions.
“St. Petersburg had little experience with these kinds of events,” said Vladimir Geshkin, editor of a national sports daily newspaper, Sport Express. “Most of the experience was in Moscow, which had the 1980 Summer Olympics and the 1986 Goodwill Games. Now, this city will know better how to handle it in the future.”
No one can fault officials of the local organizing committee for their effort. They even made sure that it did not rain during the fortnight, paying $18,000 to a private company that dispatched planes to seed ominous clouds with silver salts. As a result, the moisture within the clouds was deposited before they reached the city.
They were confronted with an expense they did not anticipate when a Moroccan, Hammou Boutaieb, won track and field’s 10,000-meter race. When it was discovered that the band at Petrovsky Stadium did not know the Moroccan national anthem and that no Moroccan flag was immediately available, Boutaieb refused to participate in the medal ceremony.
For $150, the organizers had the flag shipped to them overnight from Moscow by the Moroccan embassy, which also faxed them the sheet music for the national anthem. Band members remained awake until the early hours of the morning, learning the anthem so the ceremony could be rescheduled for the next afternoon. By then, a contrite Boutaieb had already apologized and accepted his medal. But it was the effort that counted.
There were, however, no quick fixes for the problems at the pool and the ice rink, which resulted in delays in swimming, speed skating and figure skating competitions that were unprecedented for a supposedly major international event.
One crisis followed another. On the next-to-last day of the Games, employees of VNIPI, the company that provided computers for judges’ scoring and tabulating results, went on strike for an hour. They said that they had not been paid since March. The organizing committee’s offer to pay them off with fresh cabbage was rejected.
The local organizers and their partners from the Goodwill Games offices in Atlanta locked horns over issues ranging from methods of selling tickets and dispensing unfavorable news to the media to the design of the gray and white kitten mascot, Petya.
When asked who was running things at a particularly disorganized competition one night, one of the Atlantans, in a huff, said, “Petya.”
But when the event ended, both sides said they had learned from each other. Goodwill Games President Jack Kelly said that he learned patience, and members of the St. Petersburg Organizing Committee said they learned about overcoming problems.
“Russians are not capricious,” Bobrov said. “We’re used to a system. But, all of a sudden, we’re placed in a position where we have to innovate. We’re creating solutions to problems.”
Because the organizers had so many problems to solve, the Goodwill Games did not create an ideal environment for athletes. In several sports, they were not able to compete at their best. But many of them made the most of the experience.
“It hasn’t been easy for them, but they’ve had a great attitude about it,” said Frank Carroll, a figure skating coach from Lake Arrowhead. “They’ve been getting out and seeing the sights and letting things come as they may.
“This will be good for them. They’ll appreciate the ice in their own rinks when they get home.”
Goodwill Games officials from Atlanta will go home to survey not only the damage to their reputations but also their finances. It has been reported that they will lose $26 million, which is less than the $44 million they lost in 1986 in Moscow but about the same as they lost four years ago in Seattle. They are committed to another attempt in 1998 in New York, but not even Turner can say whether they will try again beyond then.