Saturday, April 22, 2000

Cincinnati unlikely 2004 host

        The Greeks have been warned. They have screwed up the 2004 Summer Olympics from pillar to Parthenon, and the consequences could be costly.

        Unless drastic changes are made by the end of the year, Juan Antonio Samaranch says the Athens games are “in danger.” He says organizers are “not delivering.” He is “very much worried.”

        The president of the International Olympic Committee is not normally so direct in his speech. Samaranch customarily couches his criticisms in nebulous euphemisms. That he has dispensed with diplomacy this time tells you Athens has not responded to subtlety. It tells you, too, that there is at least an outside chance the 2004 Games could be relocated.

        Are you listening, Nick Vehr?

        “I'm not sure I see any viability to the concept of an American city getting the games in 2004,” the President of Cincinnati 2012 said Friday. “I'm not sure I see any scenario where it would be anything other than fascinating conversation.”

        But what if push came to shove came to panic? What if the 2004 Games were suddenly up for grabs and prospective suitors were needed on short notice? Could Cincinnati ramp up and still finish Ft. Washington Way?

Greece forewarned
        “Of all the American cities — in terms of venues that would be available — I think we might be the most viable,” Vehr said. “But that's a Cincinnati guy's perspective.”

        Despite the perception that Vehr operates in his own parallel universe, he is actually quite savvy about Olympic politics.

        He knows that no American city should presume to prepare a contingency plan for 2004 without the blessing of the United States Olympic Committee.

        He recognizes the rest of the world is not clamoring for another American Olympics so soon after the 1996 Atlanta experience.

        He senses that Samaranch's rhetoric was designed to light fires, not to burn bridges.

        “It feels to me like the IOC is trying to put the fear of God into the Greek organizing committee and the Greek government to shake loose whatever is stuck,” Vehr said. “It's a very loud shot across the bow. But we haven't talked about it (making a bid) at all.”

        That said, if Athens has failed to satisfy IOC concerns about accommodations, traffic, security, communications, construction, venues and infrastructure, some other city may have to pick up the slack.

It's happened before
        The 1908 Summer Games were moved from Rome to London because of money problems. The 1976 Winter Games, awarded to Denver, were held in Austria after Colorado voters rebelled for tax and environmental reasons.

        Three times, the Summer Games have been canceled because of World Wars. Once before, in 1914, Cincinnati was proposed as an alternative site.

        On Aug. 19, 1914, only 15 days after Germany invaded Belgium, American Olympic secretary James E. Sullivan wrote Olympic founder Pierre de Coubertin suggesting Chicago, San Francisco and Cincinnati be considered for the 1916 Games — then scheduled for Berlin.

        “I have had several strong letters,” Sullivan wrote, “asking me to use my influence with you to bring the games to America, if there is a change to be made.”

        If there is a change to be made for 2004, it will likely involve some city with major sports facilities already in place: Seoul, Sydney or Los Angeles. If it involves Cincinnati, we'll keep you posted.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your e-mail at

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