Olympics budget nearly $2 billionPosted: Tuesday December 11, 2001 2:16 PM
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The last time the United States held a Winter Olympics, athletes slept in a prison and organizers nearly had to declare bankruptcy on a $168 million budget.
As top officials meet in Switzerland this week to review final plans for an Olympics only two months away, they'll find the accommodations aren't the only thing upgraded since 1980 in Lake Placid, N.Y.
The Salt Lake City Olympics will be the most expensive Winter Games ever, costing nearly $2 billion -- or $791,667 per athlete -- to stage 17 days of skiing and skating. Nearly $1 of every $5 will be picked up by U.S. taxpayers.
The budget dwarfs what was spent in Lake Placid and nearly triples the cost of the much larger 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, even in inflation-adjusted dollars.
"I don't know how they're spending so much. It's the Winter Games, for gosh sakes," said Dick Pound, an influential International Olympic Committee member from Canada, who headed the IOC oversight committee for the Atlanta Olympics.
The lavish spending is a reflection of a trend in recent years, where the cost of staging the games has skyrocketed as each Olympic city tries to outdo the last.
The costs also have soared because of the increase in security and the number of athletes, and more expensive technology.
Millions of dollars from ticket sales and other funds will be used to wine and dine Olympic dignitaries and their guests, making sure they have cars and drivers to get them to all events and prime seats.
The Salt Lake City figures are staggering even to Olympic officials who thought the 1998 Nagano Games pushed extravagance to its limit with a $1.14 billion price tag.
"It's beyond my imagination that things could suddenly jump to the extreme costs they're running," said Philip Wolff, the chief of staff for the Lake Placid Games. "Are we running a games of spending or of competition for the athletes?"
Eighteen cents of every dollar will come from the pockets of American taxpayers. They will pay to make the games safer and for other costs, such as additional weather forecasts and transportation for spectators traveling to major competition sites.
All the millions, though, weren't enough to spruce up Salt Lake City the way Olympic organizers had envisioned - or to pay for a proper cauldron for the Olympic flame. Organizers had to scramble for a late $8 million donation just so they could have a cauldron and opening ceremony that would make the city proud.
"The cauldron simply wasn't measuring up, nor was the opening ceremony," said prominent Salt Lake City banker Spence Eccles, who made the donation.
Despite the massive expenditures, Salt Lake City will pay what it owes, and leave Utah with some winter sports facilities and a $40 million fund to enjoy them after the games, Feb. 8-24.
"We expect to break even," said Mitt Romney, president of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee.
That will happen largely because the largess of television, which will pay some $442 million for the right to broadcast the games. And Salt Lake City organizers sold the games well, bringing in another $553 million in sponsor money before the national economy took a nosedive.
Just as important is the federal contribution of about $380 million, five times what taxpayers had to pay for the 1984 Games in Los Angeles and twice as much as what the federal government spent on the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
The rest of the money is coming from ticket sales, and state and local governments.
In addition, $1 billion in federal funds was used to expedite construction of a light rail line and reconstruct Salt Lake City's main freeway before the games. Organizers and Utah politicians argue those funds would have been spent anyway.
The $1.91 billion Salt Lake City budget actually approaches the cost of staging the Summer Olympics just six years ago: $2.4 billion when adjusted for inflation.
But the Atlanta Olympics drew 10,332 athletes to compete at 29 venues, while Salt Lake City expects just 2,400 athletes at 10 venues.
Sydney's official budget for the 2000 Summer Games was $1.97 billion, while Athens is proposing to spend $1.71 billion to stage the 2004 Olympics.
"The Summer Games are dramatically larger than the Winter Games in terms of the number of visitors and all those things," said Billy Payne, who headed the Atlanta Olympics. "It's interesting to me that the costs are similar."
Romney points to the IOC itself as the culprit for some of the costs. Feeding, housing and taking care of Olympic officials, dignitaries and their guests are expensive, he says, and so is keeping the media happy enough to report about them.
Then there is $291 million system to gather competition results for the media and fans. It was cobbled together with a consortium of companies after longtime Olympic sponsor IBM decided its investment in prior games wasn't worth it.
Salt Lake City's system features 32,000 miles of fiber optic cable tied to 4,200 computers donated in a $20 million package by Gateway computers.
"That kind of requirement didn't exist 20 years ago and today we insist on it," Romney said.
The thousands of security workers, from small-town Utah police to the Secret Service, will be backed by radar planes, biological and chemical detectors and the latest in expensive equipment.
The security budget, just over $300 million, is nearly triple what was spent in Atlanta -- even before the Sept. 11 attacks -- and 13 times in inflation-adjusted dollars what was spent at Lake Placid.
"The athlete's housing was the only thing where you went through a security check," recalled Jim Rogers, chief of protocol for the 1980 Games. "At the venues there was nothing. The only military presence was a national guard MASH unit to treat any injuries."
Rogers said Lake Placid tried to focus its spending on athletes, while leaving others to pay their own way.
"We probably had the last true Olympics for the athletes," he said.
Perhaps, but the Olympic Village in Salt Lake City should be nicer than the new prison where Lake Placid athletes stayed before the convicts arrived. Athletes at the 2002 Games will stay at a new $32 million student-housing complex at the University of Utah.
To Romney's credit, he actually pared $200 million off the operating budget he inherited when he took over in 1999. He sliced millions off the opening and closing ceremonies, put portable toilets instead of permanent restrooms at some facilities, and stopped catering meals at board of director meetings.
Indeed, Romney said he himself was shocked when he took over and saw the preliminary budget figures.
"I expected the Olympics to cost something like $200 million," he said. "Boy, was I wrong."