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For week ended December 05, 1999 Posted 18 Dec 1999

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Utahns unwavering on Games

Summarized by Eric Bunker

Utahns unwavering on Games
Deseret News 5Dec99 S2
By Lisa Riley Roche: Deseret News staff writer

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- Even as the politically embarrassed International Olympic Committee gears up for a major rules overhaul in response to the year-old scandal surrounding Salt Lake City's bid, Utahns' overall support for the 2002 Winter Games hasn't changed much. The poll results came just before the IOC begins meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, to consider adopting a series of reforms intended to prevent a repeat of SLOC's scandal of the last year.

According to a new Deseret News-KSL poll, an overwhelming 80 percent of the respondents have confidence in the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, and believe Utah can successfully host the Games. The poll numbers also found that 64 percent of the state's residents are still in favor hosting the Games, a figure that has stayed steady throughout 1999.

However, 53 percent of the respondents said they would not have endorsed the Olympic bid in a 1989 statewide referendum if they knew then what eventually would happen. Additionally, 52 percent said they weren't confident the Games could be staged without leaving behind a debt for taxpayers to pay off.

In commenting on the numbers, Mitt Romney said, "It's a combination of looking back and looking forward. Utahns are looking back and seeing shadows. When they look forward, they are optimistic."

Romney, who took over the Salt Lake Organizing Committee earlier this year at the height of the turmoil, recognizes that those numbers could change. "There is a burden to perform," he said. "I'd be amazed if the numbers stay that high because we will inevitably make mistakes and trip on occasion. But when all is said and done, it will be a great Games."

He also said that Utahns shouldn't worry about having to come up with more money to make that happen. "There are no guarantees," Romney said. However, he said organizers are committed to repaying the $59 million taxpayers have already invested in facilities, plus leave behind another $40 million to run them.

Pollster Dan Jones said the results still indicate that Utahns believe it's inevitable they will have to contribute more tax dollars to the Olympics. "I think they're preparing themselves for the scenario that (the Games) won't make money and there will be a deficit that has to be made up," he said.

The results also show the public believes Romney deserves credit for restoring confidence in the organizing committee.

The poll also found that Sixty-nine percent of those questioned said the allegations and investigations have tainted the reputation of Salt Lake City and Utah in the national and international community. However, 78 percent of Utahns believe the international Olympic movement has benefited from the upheaval and 64 percent said the movement has been improved by what it has recently gone through.

That opinion shared by many insiders, including Jim Easton, one of the two IOC members from the United States. "The good is we are making changes. The changes are, I think, very strong, stronger than I thought would be coming."

Without the scandal, he said, it would have been business as usual at the IOC. "People generally don't like to reform themselves without being pushed into doing it," Easton said. "It could not have been done without the scandal and the pressures put on by the scandal."

To date, the investigations have resulted in six IOC members being expelled, 10 being warned and 4 resigning, as well as the forced resignation of the international relations director of the U.S. Olympic Committee and the two top officials of SLOC. There have also been two people, a local Utah businessman, and the son of a powerful IOC member from South Korea, charged in the ongoing federal criminal investigation.

Later this month, the fourth congressional hearing is scheduled on the matter, which has been described as the worst crisis in the history of the modern Olympics.

The changes include proposals that would alter the way the IOC chooses its members; place new limits on how long they serve; restrict the president to no more than 16 years in office; and ban member visits to bid cities, with restrictions on gift-giving and hospitality.

The new ethics code will permit only gifts of nominal value, in accordance with prevailing local customs. Other gifts must be passed on to the IOC. And hospitality cannot exceed the standards prevailing in the host country.

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information