So -- while the rest of the world waits for the People's Republic to utterly transform itself, nonpolitical, noncommercial, nondrugged Olympic glee awaits us next year in nearby Salt Lake City. Organizers there put everything short of the Book of Mormon on the auction block in their successful effort to capture the 2002 winter festivities, and fallout from the bribery scandal continues to hover over Utah. In the aftermath, the IOC purged ten delegates, but sponsor investment slowed to a trickle, nonetheless. Without the Mormon Church's huge investment, the Games might not have come off at all. Sales of $50 commemorative bricks in Salt Lake's Olympic Legacy Plaza have raised less than $500,000 (a similiar effort in Atlanta netted $10 million), and national advertisers continue to back off. Even the IOC's beloved Olympic flame was in danger for awhile. Amid hundreds of cutbacks necessitated by the scandal, the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee tried to trim the budget for a huge gas cauldron, where the flame was to burn, from $2 million to a paltry $450,000. Told by designers they couldn't do the job done for that sum, the committee panicked until an anonymous donor came up with the difference.
Talk about Olympic symbolism: Imagine the Games without their Guiding Light.
Meanwhile, two disgraced members of the Salt Lake committee, David Johnson and Tom Welch, go on trial in federal court July 30, on charges of fraud, conspiracy and racketeering. Welch is particularly adamant in insisting he committed no crime: If convicted of a felony, he would be obliged to give up his treasured gun collection.
The fireworks in Salt Lake City probably mean very little to the IOC's new president, Dr. Jacques Rogge. A prime mover in last year's Olympic success in Sydney, this surgeon from Belgium is less intent on looking at past abuses than in remaining above reproach in the future. He vows to eliminate doping (akin to saying you'll mop up the Titanic's decks and sail on) and to reduce the Games' rampant commercialization (comparable to telling Coke to get out of the soda business). In any event, the IOC has probably chosen the wrong man. If the committee were true to its principles, it would have waited a few more months to replace the ancient Señor Samaranch, waited for that little problem in The Hague to clear up, then installed Slobodan Milosevic as the new Lord of the Rings. For once, Olympic symbolism would have made sense.