Spending Concern for 2014 Olympics Race

Tuesday, July 3rd 2007, 7:11 am
By: News On 6

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala (AP) _ Tens of millions of dollars pouring into Olympic bid campaigns. PR companies, lobbyists and spin doctors working frantically. Rumors of dirty tricks swirling behind the scenes.

Intrigue was rampant Monday in the final 48 hours before the vote on the host city for the 2014 Winter Olympics, leading some senior International Olympic Committee officials to say the bidding process has gotten out of control and needs to be curbed.

``I feel if this continues, the smaller countries will have no chance in the future for getting the Winter Olympic Games,'' IOC Executive Board member Gerhard Heiberg told The Associated Press. ``We have to do something. This time we have to accept it, but we need some new rules.''

The South Korean city of Pyeongchang, the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi and the Austrian ski station of Salzburg are in a tight race for the 2014 Games, with the winner to be selected Wednesday in a secret ballot by the IOC.

In a sign of the high stakes, the heads of government of all the bidding countries have come to Guatemala to push their case _ an Olympic first.

Russian President Vladimir Putin flew in Monday afternoon, straight from his two-day summit with President Bush in Kennebunkport, Maine. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun arrived Sunday, a day after Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer. All three will take part in the final presentations Wednesday before the vote.

While no official figures are available, the Russians and Koreans are each believed to have spent in excess of $40 million on their bids, and Austria a fraction of that. The figures are comparable to the sums spent during the bidding for the much more high-profile 2012 Summer Games, in which London defeated Paris, New York, Madrid and Moscow.

``In my opinion too much money is being spent on trying to win the Winter Olympics,'' said Heiberg, a Norwegian who organized the 1994 Lillehammer Games. ``It should be less about the political prestige and the money.''

The senior U.S. member of the IOC, Anita DeFrantz, also is concerned. She led an IOC reform group in 2000 which examined ways to lower the cost of bidding.

``I can't say right now that we've been very successful,'' DeFrantz said. ``I would prefer less of the PR and more specifics about how the games will be conducted.''

Bidding rules were tightened after the Salt Lake City scandal, which led to the ouster of 10 IOC members for accepting improper benefits. Members have since been prohibited from visiting candidate cities, and limitations placed on promotional activity by the bidders.

There is concern in Olympic circles that the cities have pushed the rules to the limit or exceeded them.

Questions have been raised about the influence of South Korean electronics giant Samsung _ an official Olympic sponsor _ on Pyeongchang's bid, as well as Russia's reported desire to make state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom a future Olympic sponsor.

The Russians flew in 120 tons of equipment to Guatemala aboard a giant Antonov An-124 cargo plane, including the material for an ice rink which they set up near the official Olympic hotels. The IOC instructed members not to visit the rink and asked the Russians not to open it for use until the day after the vote.

There was also contention over Putin's plans to hold individual meetings with IOC members at his own hotel. Under IOC rules, lobbying can only take place at the official Olympic hotels, so the Russians are changing their plans.

Sochi leaders were furious when they learned that someone has been secretly slipping copies of Russia Today _ a hotel newspaper service _ under the doors of IOC members' rooms. The publication ran stories they considered negative toward Russia, including reports of police breaking up an anti-government rally in Moscow and two soldiers killed in a bomb blast in Chechnya.

The Russians asked the hotel to review its surveillance cameras and identified the person delivering the publication as a woman delegate from a rival bid. The Sochi team passed the information to Guatemalan authorities but decided not to file a complaint with the IOC.

The IOC said Monday that 97 members will be eligible to vote in the first round. It would take a majority of 49 votes to win on the first ballot, which is considered unlikely. The city with the fewest votes goes out in the first round.

``Today the race is very open,'' Heiberg said. ``I have talked to a lot of my colleagues and it will be decided in the last two days. The final presentations could be decisive.''