Whistler end of Olympic bid needs work 

IOC vice president says no reason two bids from Canada can’t succeed

If the Vancouver-Whistler 2010 Olympic bid has an area of concern it’s Whistler, according to International Olympic Committee vice-president Dick Pound.

"I don’t think there will be much doubt about the indoor venues for 2010," Pound told a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon March 23. "The challenge will be the sports practised on snow, particularly the alpine events."

Pound didn’t site any problems with Whistler itself or the facilities here, but suggested there are two areas that need work: Whistler’s relationship with the FIS following the cancellation of three World Cup downhill races between 1996 and 1998, and transportation between Vancouver and Whistler.

"The alpine sports are traditionally very important to the Winter Games," Pound told a media scrum following the luncheon. "You’ve got to make sure you’ve got good facilities and that they’re accessible. I think at Whistler with the nordic event area, we have a superb facility. There is a distance between venues, as there has been with many other winter bids and host cities. But what we have to offer in B.C. is an unparalleled opportunity for people travelling from Vancouver to Whistler, and vice versa. Something that can be a net plus rather than a minus. There is a distance, which you can’t change, but where else in the world can you have the drive you do on route 99?"

Pound, a Montreal lawyer, suggested the bid group market the scenic nature of the route between Vancouver and Whistler, improve the highway, and make sure there are transportation alternatives available.

"I think you certainly want to be able to say we’ve always had a terrific road and now it’s even better. And if you don’t want to drive, you can go by train. And if you don’t want to drive or go by train we can get you up as far as Squamish by fairly fast marine transport."

Asked to characterize the road in its present state, Pound said: "It’s fine. I drive up there quite often to visit my son, and it’s okay. But it’s okay if you’re used to driving on mountain roads, and not everybody is."

Pound, who will announce next week whether or not he is a candidate to succeed Juan Antonio Samaranch as president of the IOC, was asked about the importance of a FIS endorsement of Whistler.

"If they come out and say such-and-such a place is no good, that’s a big problem. There’s absolutely no reason they should say that (about Whistler). What’s better is for them to say ‘We’re really happy with Whistler, so that if the IOC decides to come to Vancouver-Whistler we’re good’."

Asked if he was saying Whistler needs to get the World Cup races back from Lake Louise, Pound replied: "The more international events you have organized and have demonstrated you can organize, well the better it is. It’s a matter of reducing any concern about risk that the IOC may have. These things are essentially risk management issues."

Asked about the biggest challenge the Vancouver-Whistler bid faces, Pound said: "It’s really hard to call that until you know who else is in the race. All races involve some element of choice and if you’re against some really superb other winter site, then it’s a little tougher. If you’re not and you start off the race as Whistler being the most known ski resort of all those in the competition then you’ve got an advantage and you plan your strategy."

Although there are no official bids for the 2010 Winter Olympics at this time, other cities that have expressed an interest in bidding include Helsinki, Finland; Jaca, Spain; Zurich and Bern-Montreux, Switzerland; Muju, South Korea; and Sarajevo, Bosnia. The IOC will select a host for the 2010 Games in mid-2003.

Common sentiment, however, is that Toronto’s bid for the 2008 Summer Olympics is the biggest obstacle to the Vancouver-Whistler bid. The general belief is that the IOC would not award two successive Games to the same country. Pound challenged that line of thinking.

"If Toronto wins 2008 the hill gets steeper for Vancouver, but it’s not insurmountable," Pound said. "There’s no need for anyone here to go out and sacrifice live chickens."

Earlier in the day a radio report quoted Paul Henderson, chair of Toronto’s unsuccessful bid for the 1996 Olympics, as saying having Toronto and Vancouver-Whistler bidding at the same time was hurting both bids’ chances.

Pound agreed some people see having two bids at once as confusing, "But I don’t think the success or failure of Toronto will have any material effect on Vancouver, or vice versa.

"With the new rotation of the Games every two years it’s inevitable that with a country as interested as we are that there will be bids running at the same time. I think that the opportunity to go for both has never been better."

That’s a reversal of Pound’s own position from 1998, when he too suggested it was unwise for Canada to put forward two bids at once. Marion Lay, chair of the Vancouver-Whistler 2010 Bid Corp., pointed out that the IOC process for choosing an Olympic host has changed since 1998. An IOC evaluation commission now evaluates bids and presents its findings to 45 IOC members who vote. Lay described the 45 voting members as "very credible sports people, 15 athletes, 15 national Olympic associations and 15 international federations. So I think we’re seeing the IOC change. I think Dick (made his statement in 1998) with sort of the old vision on. But I’ll tell you right now the athletes are very, very strong… I don’t think there will be another decision made by the IOC that is not athlete driven."

In his speech to the board of trade Pound described the evaluation commission.

"It’s not a feel-good commission. They’ve seen it all, they’re not going to be impressed by a warm welcome. They’ll tear the bid apart and act like the auditor general on a bad day."

Pound added the evaluation commission’s report will be made public so the bid "had better be bullet-proof."

He concluded by saying the Games are no longer a drain on the host country and should provide a profit. Television rights for the Athens Games in 2004 are worth $1.6 billion US. Sponsorship rights by 2010 could be worth close to $1 billion, he said.

"The Games are an opportunity that should be seized with enthusiasm. There’s no better country in the world, no better Olympic host. Let’s get out there and win both prizes."

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