Utahns finally will get their chance to hear about plans for the 2002 Winter Games this week - if they still care.

On the eve of the first large-scale effort to provide details about the $1 billion-plus event, a new Deseret News poll found that less than half of the state's residents want to be involved and feel a part of the Olympics.Salt Lake Organizing Committee officials say they've done the best they can to communicate with the public, especially given limited financial resources. And now they're ready to do more.

Along with Gov. Mike Leavitt and other state and local government leaders, SLOC is sponsoring what's being billed as an "Olympic Forum" at the Salt Palace from 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Olympic organizers say they have invited hundreds of community, business and religious leaders from around the state to listen to an overview of plans for 2002 and participate in discussions about specific programs.

The public is welcome, too, although organizers caution they've only reserved enough room for about 900 people at the Salt Palace. Given the poll results, though, they may not need to worry.

Fifty-eight percent of the Utahns interviewed statewide said they don't feel at all a part of the Games. And about half of them said they don't want to, either.

A majority of the same respondents said Olympic organizers aren't doing what they can to involve the public. Sixty-nine percent said they don't know enough about what's being planned.

The poll was conducted for the Deseret News by Dan Jones & Associates in August and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent. A total of 407 Utahns were interviewed.

Ken Bullock, the executive director of the Utah League of Cities and Towns, one of the sponsors of the Olympic Forum, said the poll results are sobering. Still, he said it's not too late to rally Utahns behind the Games.

But organizers have to be more forthcoming about what they're up to, Bullock said. That's something he's pushed for some time as a member of the SLOC Board of Trustees.

"We've lost two or three years of opportunities to teach people about the Olympics . . . more importantly what it means to them," Bullock said. "I would still be very optimistic people will come out and we'll put on a great face."

Dan Jones said he was surprised his poll found that more Utahns don't want to be part of the Olympics. "It shows the Olympic committee has got to provide information and get people involved," Jones said.

That's exactly what SLOC officials hope the meeting Tuesday will accomplish. "It's just an honest-to-goodness effort to communicate," said Frank Joklik, chief executive officer of SLOC.

"We've got to clearly give information, but at the same time we need to . . . get a bit of a better view of public concerns about the quality and the type of information they're getting," Joklik said.

SLOC Vice President of Public Communications Shelley Thomas said she's been hard at work since she was hired last November, putting together education, youth sports, and arts and culture programs.

"We've done everything we can on a very fast track in order to meet the needs of the community. I'd hate to leave the impression, the wrong impression, that we don't care or didn't have a plan," Thomas said.

The organizing committee has been criticized for being too secretive since Joklik took over about a year ago. New policies have been put in place to prevent SLOC employees from talking about their work, even to family members.

That image was reinforced earlier this year when International Olympic Committee Vice President Anita DeFrantz said SLOC needs to be allowed to get their work done in peace.

DeFrantz said Utahns need to be more supportive of Olympic organizers even though they "can't tell you every minute what they're doing. (The public) should be satisfied these folks are doing a good job."

Tuesday's meeting comes just a couple of weeks before a new budget for the 2002 Winter Games is scheduled to be released by the organizing committee. It will be made public on Sept. 24 and voted on by trustees Oct. 8.

The price tag, now at more than $1 billion, is expected to climb. The money is coming from corporate sponsors, television networks and other private sources.

However, Utah taxpayers have invested $59 million in Olympic facilities including a bobsled and luge track near Park City. Organizers have agreed to repay the full amount.

The governor has said tax dollars could be used to take advantage of what he sees as the economic development opportunities associated with the Olympics - including, his staff has said, arts and culture programs.

An announcement of a new initiative to help communities off the Wasatch Front participate in the official Olympic arts and culture program is expected at Tuesday's meeting.

It's not clear if the announcement will include funding details. Olympic organizers are not likely to be in a position to contribute money to the initiative.

Also Tuesday, more information on volunteer opportunities may be available. Organizers now say between 15,000 and 18,000 Utahns are going to be asked to provide free labor during the Games.

The governor's staff has said he'll help recruit volunteers. His spokeswoman, Vicki Varela, said only that he will discuss both arts and culture programs and volunteers in his remarks Tuesday.

Varela wasn't bothered by the poll results. "Basically people are saying that they're ready to get more information," she said. "I'm not troubled by the fact that some citizens say they don't anticipate participating directly."

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Additional Information

Deseret News Poll

How much to you feel a part of the Olympics?

A big part 8%

A small part 31%

Not a part at all 58%

Don't know 2%

Do you want to be involved and feel a part of the 2002 Winter Games?

Definitely 22%

Probably 25%

Probably Not 20%

Definitely not 29%

Don't know 4%

In your opinion, are Olympic organizers doing what they can to involve you in the Games?

Definitely 7%

Probably 22%

Probably Not 26%

Definitely not 30%

Don't know 11%

Don't want to be involved 5%

Do you feel you know enough about plans for the Games?

Definitely 9%

Probably 15%

Probably Not 31%

Definitely not 38%

Don't know 3%

Don't care 4%

A poll of 407 adults statewide was conducted Aug. 18-20 by Dan Jones & Associates. It has a margin of error of +/- 5.0 percent. Dan Jones & Associates is an independent polling firm whose clients include other organizations and sometimes political parties and candidates.

Copyright Deseret News, 1998