The games should belong to the people

  • John Cushing

 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

John Cushing just started his fifth term as the mayor of Bountiful, and his first term as the president of the Utah League of Cities and Towns:

John Cushing: "Since Utah was awarded the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, we have heard a great deal about how the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee is a "private" enterprise. That excuse has been touted whenever we have asked why it is so overwhelmingly filled with businessmen; why executive meetings are closed to the public and the media; why there is so little involvement of communities; and why so many of those who are involved seem to be profiting from contracts and agreements. This claim of the games being private is dishonest, both in the spirit of what was promised the people of Utah and in fact.

"Perhaps our friends who persist in their claim of private Olympic Winter Games need a brief refresher course: $60 million of taxpayers ' money went into building Olympic facilities. While this money did not pay directly for the bid process, does anyone honestly believe that our chances for securing the games were not directly affected by the tax-supported facilities? In the meantime, the state and municipalities such as Salt Lake City and Park City were donating personnel to assist with the bid, traveling around the world to support the bid, and offering additional services for its furtherance. Again, all at taxpayer expense.

"At about the same time, the Utah governor agreed with Salt Lake City that state government would be the ultimate guarantor of the financial success of the games. State taxpayers would benefit should there be a profit and would be responsible for a deficit if one developed. Likewise, repayment of local government sales tax also would be subject to the financial viability of the games. Had not the public sector guaranteed the financial viability of the games, there would be none.

"These were to be Utah's games; all of Utah would benefit, not only with financial gains but with the adventure of a lifetime - something to tell our grandchildren about. We were told our children and future athletes would benefit from the availability of sports facilities built for the games and from exposure to various cultures represented by Olympics visitors.

"And then, in summer 1995, Salt Lake City's bid won. We welcomed our delegation home as heroes. People from all over the state were at the celebration with their community flags to show statewide support.

"We waited for our contributions to be recognized as well. We were excited about being a part of the once-in-a-lifetime endeavor. We waited. When we grew tired of waiting for an invitation, we asked and were told that we would be called on when needed. In the meantime, we were told we should stay out of the way.

"When it was suggested that the Organizing Committee board be more varied, we were told that this was a business and must therefore be run by business people. When we asked why meetings were held behind closed doors, we were told that that was the way private business was run. Those who had made the original promises of community involvement either were no longer involved or suddenly were silent.

"So, what is it that communities and the people of Utah have the right to demand? We can begin by talking about the process of conducting the games not as a business but as a public endeavor procured by the people of Utah on behalf of themselves and the people of the world. We would hope that the games again could involve people from all walks of life.

"The exclusive nature of the Organizing Committee board and the executive committee should be changed drastically. Currently, five of the 10 members of the executive committee are U.S. Olympic Committee or International Olympic Committee members who do not live in Utah. The other five members are business people whose daily focus involves business, not community, matters.

"In the beginning of the bid process, Utah's communities were frequently called upon to provide funding and other important elements. However, now that the organizers have gotten what they needed from us, they call on us only when they need something. If the games are to be successful, this process cannot continue. We need to be involved on an ongoing basis, not only on an as-needed basis."