Magazine article Newsweek

Who Cares about Turin? with Italy's $15 Billion 'Stealth' Olympics Less Than Two Months Away, Awareness Is Low, and So Are Ticket Sales

Magazine article Newsweek

Who Cares about Turin? with Italy's $15 Billion 'Stealth' Olympics Less Than Two Months Away, Awareness Is Low, and So Are Ticket Sales

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Starr (With Barbie Nadeau in Turin)

Olympics are replete with drama, often before opening ceremonies even take place. In 2002, the world anxiously awaited the Salt Lake City Games, nervous about an American Olympics only a few months after 9/11. In 2004, Athens raced the clock as everyone wondered if the Greeks could get the roof on the Olympic Stadium before the torch arrived. And there is already anticipation of Beijing 2008, viewed as China's coming-out party and, inevitably, a corporate feeding frenzy. But the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, are less than two months away, and not many people--inside or outside of Italy--seem aware of it. If Salt Lake was the Security Games and Athens the Will They Be Ready Games, then Turin is the Stealth Games, coming up quickly under the radar.

Italy has bet more than $15 billion that when the Olympics do open on Feb. 10, the world will be watching. And it is counting on the aura of the rings to transform the nation's fourth largest city from a drab and fading automotive-manufacturing center--its population has declined almost one third since the early 1970s, from 1.3 million to 900,000--into a hot spot for sports enthusiasts and tourists of all stripes. Unfortunately, budget cuts have gutted Turin's marketing campaign, eliminating most advertising both at home and abroad. Ask about the site of the upcoming Olympics in a typical coffee bar in Rome and you're likely to hear, as owner Mario Cioffi wondered, "Aren't they in France?"

So far they may as well be. Almost half the tickets remain unsold, with Italians a virtual no-show. "It's typical of Italian culture that we only start to feel emotional about something when we have the possibility to see it in front of us. By February, Italy will have Olympic fever," predicts retired Italian skiing legend Alberto Tomba.

Public awareness got a boost last week when the Olympic torch arrived in Rome for a papal blessing before beginning its circuitous route toward Turin. For all the indifference so far, organizers haven't been spared the headaches that confront a modern Olympics. Because of its government's steadfast support of American policy in Iraq, Italy is regarded as a prime terrorist target. The Interior Ministry has said it will handle security for the massive Olympics influx--2,500 athletes, 10,000 journalists and 1 million spectators are expected--as it did the funeral of Pope John Paul II earlier this year. …

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