- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 13, 2005

The United States was host to only one Olympics between 1932 and 1980 — at Squaw Valley, Calif., in the winter of 1960 — and yet the Games went on. We even survived as a nation, miraculously enough. I mean, angry mobs didn’t storm the offices of the U.S. Olympic Committee and threaten to put their heads on desk spikes.

So should any of us really care that the U.S. might not bid for the 2016 Games? We’ve opened our homeland to the Olympics four times since 1980 — and would gladly have made it five if New York City had gotten the nod for 2012. There’s no shame in letting somebody else carry the ball for a while.

Besides, we’ve got more important things to worry about — things like Iraq and the Katrina catastrophe and even building a suitable 9/11 memorial. Our politicians don’t have the time, really, to suck the kneecaps of IOC members. Or at least, they shouldn’t.

Unfortunately, Peter Ueberroth, chairman of the USOC, doesn’t see it that way. At a press conference Monday, he talked about the committee’s hesitation to enter the 2016 sweepstakes unless it has the involvement of “a strong mayor and a strong city with a strong governor, with strong senators and congressional members. … We learned a little,” he said, “from watching [French President Jacques] Chirac and watching [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair walking the halls of Singapore [where the voting for 2012 took place].”

To which I reply: Yeah, we learned that Chirac didn’t have enough to do and Blair was up for re-election.

It’s not that the Olympics aren’t worthwhile. It’s just that, well, Ueberroth’s timing is atrocious. The last thing Americans need, with all they’re dealing with at the moment, is someone telling them they’re Not Measuring Up. Especially when the issue is something as trivial as a sports jamboree.

Then, too, I’m not sure I want any American president going hat in hand to the scoundrel-filled IOC and bleating, as Blair did before London was awarded the Games, “We’ve got the skill, we’ve got the commitment, but above all, we’ve got the passion.”

When I first read those words, two visions popped into my head. The first was of Stuart Smalley, the “Saturday Night Live” character. (“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”) The second was of a high school cheerleader. (“We’ve got the fever — we’re hot, we’re hot!”)

So don’t talk to me, Peter, about the “need to have every single person in our country lined up” if we want to land the Olympics again. Every single person? Even those displaced folks bunking at the Astrodome? Sorry, but you might have to settle for a little less than unanimity. This is, after all, America. (And synchronized diving is, after all, synchronized diving.)

I also loved this admonition of yours: “If we want to compete, we’re going to be smart. It’s got to be a coordinated effort so we know we have support at all levels and nobody’s stranded out there.”

Leave no bidding city behind. Now there’s a rallying cry for you.

Frankly, I don’t know why governments have to be involved at all — beyond the local level, that is. If the IOC were really serious about de-politicizing the Games, dialing down the nationalism, it would bid them out to the Halliburtons of the world. Instead, it expects to be fawned over by heads of state and requires host countries to provide financial guarantees. The whole process has turned into one big lap dance.

We’ve done our bit for the Olympic movement … and then some. The ‘84 Games in Los Angeles turned a profit of $225 million. Somewhere along the line, though, we developed a sense of entitlement about the Games, began to think of them as ours. Lake Placid, L.A., Atlanta, Salt Lake City — all in the space of 22 years. It smacks of gluttony.

The Olympics should be shared — the cost, the thrill, the inconvenience, the pride of hosting. The Games belong to the world. So let the world have them, I say. Go ahead, Brits, knock yourself out. Show us how it’s done. Good luck, too, to those countries in the running for 2016. May the least obsequious win.

As for the possibility the U.S. won’t even submit a bid, rest assured it’s only a temporary situation. The Olympics will be back here soon enough. If we’ve learned anything about the IOC over the years, it’s that money always talks.

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