For the first time, a senior Olympic official has questioned whether the Winter Games should go ahead in Salt Lake City while the U.S. is at war in Afghanistan.
What’s at stake for NBC is a staggering license fee of $555 million for exclusive rights to cover the Salt Lake City Games. NBC officials refused to comment Tuesday.
The Intl. Olympic Committee reiterated that the Games would go on as planned in February, saying that only “World War III” could lead to a possible change.
NBC said it still plans to take “The Today Show” to Salt Lake City for the entire duration of the Olympics, even getting there a few days early to set the scene.
That resolve clearly implies that NBC will go ahead with the Games and is not ready to trigger any contingency plans.
Earlier this month “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” said it would not originate from Salt Lake during the Olympics, scrapping its plans to send hundreds of production staffers to the city’s Rose Wagner Theater. An NBC spokeswoman insisted that the decision had nothing to with terrorism but with networkwide attempts to cut programming costs due to a soft advertising climate.
Norway’s Gerhard Heiberg on Tuesday became the first IOC official to suggest publicly that the games might not take place amid the crisis stemming from the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the U.S.
“A country at war can’t organize the Olympic Games,” Heiberg was quoted as saying in the Norwegian evening paper Aftenposten.
Heiberg’s words carry significant weight. He was the organizer of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer and serves on the IOC oversight commission for the Salt Lake Games.
Aftenposten quoted Heiberg as saying that the commission, which meets next week in Salt Lake, is expected to discuss whether U.S. military action in Afghanistan is “an armed conflict, a military operation, a strike against terrorism or a war.”
“It’s clear that we have to discuss what would happen,” Heiberg was reported as saying. “I must add that it’s an important issue. It’s a hypothetical question now if the Olympics could be staged or not. It’s too early to say what’s going to happen in three months.”
Attempts to reach Heiberg were unsuccessful. Calls to his home, office and mobile phone went unanswered.
IOC president Jacques Rogge and Salt Lake organizing chief Mitt Romney have repeatedly insisted the Games will go ahead, saying beefed-up security measures would ensure the safety of athletes and spectators.
IOC director general Francois Carrard said Tuesday he had seen reports of Heiberg’s remarks and tried unsuccessfully to reach him by phone for a clarification.
Rules for war
But Carrard stressed there is no provision in the Olympic Charter, the IOC’s official rule book, that says the Games cannot be held in a country at war.
Carrard said he believed Heiberg may have been referring to terms of the host city contract, a document signed by the IOC with every Olympic host city.
“In the host city contract, we always have a clause that provides if there is a war in the country, we have the right to terminate (the Games) if we feel it appropriate,” he said. “It would be our call. This is not at all the situation that presently exists.”
Carrard said there were no contingency plans for canceling the Feb. 8-24 Games. The only time the modern Olympics have been called off has been during the world wars.
“There is no plan at all to cancel, postpone or move the Games, or take other steps,” Carrard told the Associated Press. “Everybody is working very hard toward the holding of the Games. Nobody is contemplating for any reasons to cancel the Games.”
Rogge, accompanied by Carrard, toured the U.S. this month and came away further convinced that the Games would and should take place.
Message of peace
“What we heard and were told from all sources was that people, now more than ever, see the holding of the Games in Salt Lake City as a positive answer because of the message they carry of peace,” Carrard said. “Not holding the Games would be giving in to terrorism and going backward.”
But, for the first time, the IOC identified a scenario that could cause the Games to be called off.
“The only situation would be outside circumstances such as World War III, preventing traveling throughout the world, making it impossible for the delegations to come,” Carrard said. “In that case, we would see what could or could not be done. We are not stupid, of course. But we cannot speculate or make assumptions.”
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)