"Some see private enterprise as a predatory target to be shot, others as a cow to be milked, but few are those who see it as a sturdy horse pulling the wagon."—Winston Churchill.
Peter Ueberroth: "The 1984 Games will be a privately managed event with no taxpayer money, no government funds, no donations, not one cent. In the past, they always awarded the Games to a city and city-oriented people ran it. This will be the first time ever that an Olympic Games will be managed by sports people and business people, and it will be copied in the future."
Ueberroth is putting in his share of 100-hour weeks to assure it. Of late, he prefers the more politic approach of shifting the focus from the business side to the sporting side whenever possible, which is where it belongs, he feels, despite suggestions that the maneuver is also a handy cover for predatory targets. More surprised than wounded by such potshots, Ueberroth now seems resigned to the fact that in the coming months "I'll be in line for a lot of criticism. Criticism will be healthy, but we'll be ready for it.
"Running the Olympic Games makes more people unhappy than any job I can think of. Almost any decision I make, like selecting one accounting firm over seven others, well, you just don't satisfy many people. I've got to be among the most hated men in the world."
Not so, if only because Ueberroth is barely known on the streets of Los Angeles, much less loathed in Bratislava. In a city that dotes on the celebrity cult, the man who is producing the biggest show in Tinseltown annals could pirouette into Ma Maison and fire up the crepes suzette with the Olympic torch and still not draw a second glance from a single agent or starlet. Instead, Ueberroth eats at his desk and goes home at night to his wife and children. Funky, but hardly the stuff of gossip columns. Mark him calm, soft-spoken and self-effacing. Low profile all the way.
Oh, Ueberroth can deliver a suitably rousing speech when the occasion calls. He is enough of a skilled diplomat to have gained the respect of the International Olympic Committee, which was none too happy about turning its Games over to a Yankee profiteer, winning reviews of "impeccably organized" from President Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain and "outstanding" from Director Monique Berlioux of France.
Still, as one colleague says, "There are a lot of shields and minors there." Partly, that is because Ueberroth happens to be a very private man thrust into a very public job. And, partly, it is a new veil of caution he has thrown up to ward off unnecessary controversy and protect himself from a natural inclination to be frank. And part of it would seem to stem from a deepseated suspicion of the media, which Ueberroth denies he has. But, says one staffer, "They [the LAOOC higher-ups] are petrified of the press." It goes deeper than that. Another person familiar with the inner workings of the LAOOC, says that Ueberroth feels "the media should be controlled. Period. I mean the word 'controlled.' That word was used." As a result, whenever Ueberroth broaches any subject more sensitive than the weather, about the only hot fact on the record is that he's talking off the record.
"Once burned, twice cautious," says Amy Collis, assistant vice-president of the LAOOC news department, explaining that her boss must "constantly be aware of the Games' global image." That is, aware that a throwaway line dropped, say, at a dedication ceremony at Lake Casitas, site of the rowing and canoeing events, can make angry waves in Bulgarian kayak circles.
Ueberroth has also learned to say "G.D.R." instead of East Germany, "non-participation" when he means boycott and "our friends in the Soviet Union" when alluding to the Russian sports heavies who periodically knock "the millionaire Peter Ueberroth" and his capitalist Games.
All that diplomatic kowtowing matters not. Staging the Olympics is a game of substance, not style. And in that venue, Ueberroth has proved himself a world-class competitor. He's well known in the circles that count, clearly understood by the people who matter.