If the war in the Persian Gulf isn't over before members of the International Olympic Committee choose the site of the 1998 Winter Games in June, it could count against Salt Lake City, a member of the Utah Sports Authority warned.
"I don't believe the Olympics have ever been awarded to a country engaging in war. That's contrary to the whole Olympic ideal," Randy Dryer told a caucus of the state Senate Tuesday.Dryer, who attended the caucus to discuss an unrelated bill, was asked whether Salt Lake City's chances of being awarded the Winter Games would be hurt if the United States is still at war when the IOC makes its decision in June.
"That would definitely hurt," he answered, adding the effect could be offset if the war ends soon. "If it drags on, I think it could have a detrimental impact."
No one expects the gulf war to continue through 1998. But war has had an effect on past Olympics even though the Games' purpose is to promote peace among nations. During World War II, some Games were even canceled.
More recently, the United States boycotted the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. And Olympic officials have already taken action against Iraq.
Iraq was suspended by the Olympic Council of Asia last year and barred from participating in the Asia Games in China. A member of the IOC from Kuwait, Sheik Fahad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, was killed the day Iraq invaded his country.
Dryer's view is not shared by other supporters of Salt Lake City's bid for the 1998 Winter Games, including at least one member of the International Olympic Committee.
"I think the United States is still safe," Ashwini Kumar, an IOC member from India, told the local media during a recent visit to Utah. "The whole world is presenting security problems at the moment."
Kumar should know, officials of the Salt Lake City Bid Committee for the Olympic Winter Games say. A retired director general of India's border security force, Kumar has helped oversee security for the Olympics since 1981.
The international relations director of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Alfredo LaMonte, said that the entire world is at risk as a result of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's terrorist threats, not just the United States.
"It's not like it's just the United States is at war with Iraq. It's the rest of the world against Iraq," LaMonte said to describe the perception Olympic officials around the world have of the war.
LaMonte said the other countries competing for the 1998 Winter Games - the Soviet Union, Japan, Sweden, Italy and Spain - are all playing some part in the war even if just showing support.
After the war began, officials of the Switzerland-based IOC issued a directive asking staff not to travel unless necessary. The directive does not apply to IOC members.
However, the head of the bid committee said three IOC members have canceled planned trips to Utah, citing the war. Tom Welch declined to name them but said one is South American, another European and the third from somewhere overseas.
"It may be a convenient reason for them to cite," Welch said, adding that it was not unusual for IOC members to change their travel plans.
The bid committee hopes to bring more than half of the 94 IOC members to Utah before the vote in June. So far, fewer than 20 have visited.
Welch said he is not worried about any effect the war in the gulf may have on the city's efforts to land the 1998 Winter Games - yet.
"It's not an issue that is of concern to us at this point in the campaign," he said. "But again, we are four months out. You have to see what happens with public opinion and adjust the campaign accordingly."