Grassroots support critical for a successful bid
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Tuesday’s report on a possible Denver-Colorado bid for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games is likely to trigger a new round of debates and discussions in political circles, around water coolers and even at the family dinner table, like at my house tonight.
And while it’s only a very early step in what could be a very long process, it’s certainly worth tuning in, because it’s a decision that has the potential to affect everyone in Colorado for many years to come.
The background: Now that the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic Committee have agreed on a TV revenue-sharing deal, the door for a U.S. Olympic bid is once again open. First, the USOC has to decide if it wants to bid on the 2022 winter games, or if a bid for a subsequent summer Olympics is more important.
If a winter bid is in the cards, several communities around the U.S. will compete for the right to make that bid, with a 2013 deadline. A U.S. host city would then have contest for the right to host the games with several other cities around the world in a semi-secret and arcane process led by the Olympic wizards of the IOC.
In short, there’s still a long way to go.
I’ve been a huge Olympics fan ever since my Dad woke me up in the middle of the night in 1964 to watch the 100-meter dash finals at the 1964 Tokyo games. I love the international pageantry of the ceremonies and I respect and admire the Olympic ideal. Even though the Olympic movement has become slightly tarnished from time to time, I believe that, at its core, it still represents one of the best sides of humanity, no matter how much NBC tries to make a trite soap opera out of every event.
I would love to see the Olympics in Colorado — but only if it’s done right. I think the games could be an economic engine, and would showcase the best our state has to offer as a true world center of winter sports. A whole new generation of young Coloradans could catch the Olympic fire and be inspired to choose a healthy, athletic lifestyle, striving to achieve and taking satisfaction in giving their best.
But Colorado Olympics bid carries some serious historic baggage, based on the fact that we are the only venue that has ever rejected the games after being chosen to host them. Though there have been verbal assurances that our history won’t be held against us in a future bid, it’s worth taking the lessons from the 1970s to heart.
Olympic organizing committees have a long and sordid history of working behind closed doors. Often, politics and business stakeholders drive the process, with results that inevitably leave a bad aftertaste for the losers. Any bid has to be put together so that everybody in the state wins.
If the movers and shakers behind this nascent bid decide to move ahead, they should make sure that the effort has true grassroots support. In fact, the bid effort should begin with organizing local grassroots support groups all over the state, and especially in any areas that might potentially host events or be affected by Olympic activities.
Along with elected officials and planners, those groups should have strong representation from ordinary citizens, youth groups, schools, civic groups and sports clubs. It’s especially crucial to have local, regional and statewide environmental groups at the table from the get-go.
A top-down approach is sure to be divisive and will almost certainly lead to resentment down the road. So far, the effort has been very Denver-centric, and that’s another ingredient for creating a division between the state’s big urban center and the mountain resort communities that would be key to developing a successful bid.
Being the green tree-hugger that I am, I would advocate for a Colorado Olympics to strongly focus on environmental values, showing how winter recreation nurtures appreciation for the outdoors and stimulates respect for nature and an appreciation for natural resources.
I would encourage potential organizers to think big — really big — on this front by considering a commitment to make the 2022 games the first-ever carbon-neutral and zero-waste games. This would be a goal the whole state could get behind and would surely resonate with international organizers, since the Olympic movement has become strongly focused on the environment.
This doesn’t have to be the only focus. The report issued Tuesday puts a high priority on the public health dimension of the games and also spends a lot of time discussing the potential economic benefits, in terms of attracting investment and promoting healthy lifestyles. Those are also worthwhile angles to pursue, but it’s hard to see everyday citizens getting fired up by that approach.
Finally, the mountain towns that would host many of the events should band together to make sure that the interests of their citizens are served as the process goes forward. In the 1970s bid, there was a lot of political infighting over venues that didn’t help the situation. That type of conflict should be avoided at all cost.
A Colorado Winter Olympics has the potential to be a defining moment for Colorado and deserves serious consideration and reflection, not knee-jerk reactions based on past experiences. I hope that, if a bid starts to unfold, it will be an inclusive effort that truly reflects the spirit of our mountain state.