IOC member raises doubts over Winter Games

By Stephen Wilson The Associated Press
Wednesday October 24, 2001

LONDON — For the first time, a senior Olympic official questioned Tuesday whether the Winter Games should go ahead in Salt Lake City while the United States is at war in Afghanistan. 

But the International 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. 

Gerhard Heiberg, a respected IOC member from Norway, became the first IOC official to suggest publicly that the games might not take place in the crisis stemming from the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States. 

“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, considered the best Winter Games in history, 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 if 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. 

“President Rogge has made it abundantly clear the games will go on. To do otherwise would be giving into terrorism,” a statement from Romney said Tuesday. 

“The games are needed now more than ever. The IOC executive board has voted unanimously on this decision. We have our marching orders from the IOC and are moving forward to stage great games in February,” Romney said. 

Salt Lake Organizing Committee Chairman Robert Garff said the games “could be one of the safest places on earth” with protection by 7,000 federal, state and military personnel. 

“The games have only been canceled during world wars and this is a long way from a world war,” Garff said. “This is about terrorists who are isolated and scattered.” 

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. 

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 which is 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 United States this month and came away further convinced that the games would and should take place. 

“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 which 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.”