Magazine article Newsweek International

Who Gets the Gold? : When the Pride of Nations Is at Stake, the Road to Choosing an Olympic City Is Often. Bumpy

Magazine article Newsweek International

Who Gets the Gold? : When the Pride of Nations Is at Stake, the Road to Choosing an Olympic City Is Often. Bumpy

Article excerpt

The International Olympic Committee's 1990 vote was a Greek tragedy. That year, Athens was certain that it would win the right to host the 1996 Summer Games. After all, Greece invented the Olympics in 796 B.C., and 1996 would mark the Games' centennial. Which city could be more appropriate than Athens? Even before the vote was taken, it began constructing a new stadium and broke ground on a gymnastics hall and swimming center. Over five years Greece spent $25 million to win the bid, far surpassing the efforts of its competitors. But Greek street vendors didn't have much success peddling ATHENS'96 T shirts when the Olympic torch was lit... in Atlanta. "It is not Greece that was defeated," Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis declared bitterly, "but the Olympic idea."

China might do well to heed that lesson. Beijing may be the odds-on favorite to host the 2008 Games, but the selection process can be unpredictable--and, often, controversial. Certainly, some cities have won the Games on merit--good sporting facilities and infrastructure. Equally true, some cities are incapable of hosting such a huge event. But politics--and, sometimes, corruption--have also played roles in IOC selection votes. The razor-thin voting margins of recent years have only increased pressure on Olympic committees to do whatever it takes to win. Nagano beat Salt Lake City by two votes in 1991. Australia beat China by the same margin in 1993 (in part because of the vocal opposition of U. …

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