Olympic Games: Montreal can't pick up the torch

Soviet Olympic czars need not worry too much when they hear Montreal mentioned as an alternative to Moscow for the 1980 Olympic Games. Well-informed Canadians here consider it highly unlikely that this city, which hosted the 21st Olympiad four years ago in a giant concrete complex, will repeat the performance this July.

"It's impossible," exclaims Swiss-born Sieber Walter, who served as director general of sports for the 1976 Olympics. "There is no way we could plan to stage the games this year in Montreal. We shouldn't even talk about it."

Mr. Walter contends that it is far too late to prepare the many resources and facilities that would be needed if the city were once again to assume responsibility for holding the event.

Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark, however, is not convinced that Montreal is unable to accommodate the games, should the International Olympic Committee (IOC) be persuaded to move them here from Moscow in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Asserting that federal cash would be available to bring the games to the city and that he would continue to urge the IOC to transfer them away from Moscow, Mr. Clark says he has plans to hold further talks before accepting that it is impossible for the city to take on the task. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister continues campaigning for the national election due Feb. 18.

Mr. Walter believes that it would be simply too awesome an undertaking for Montreal to host the games again.

He points out that 10,000 athletes could be expected to descend on the city in the company of 4,000 officials, along with "a few thousand" members of the press. "Where would you lodge these people?" he asks. "Even if the Soviet Union and East bloc countries stayed away, that would still leave 7,000."

Athletes attending the 1976 games were housed in the Olympic Village -- something of a misnomer for two striking buildings resembling truncated Mayan pyramids. But most of the apartments in the two structures now have tenants. Olympic Village's Serge Mainardi says: "Ninety-one percent of the 980 apartments here have been rented. We only have between 70 and 80 left. There is no way whatsoever we could take in the athletes."

Mr. Walter, who now is director of sports promotion in the Olympic Park, adds that besides the athletes, officials, and press who would pour into Montreal, an additional 4,000 observers could be expected from the 21 international federations representing sports featured in the Olympics. To organize the entire games, a further 10,000 to 15,000 employees would be required, he adds.

While the athletes might be housed in hotels and university dormitories, the city would be hard-pressed to accommodate the others -- not to mention the thousands of spectators that would be drawn to the games.

Robert Nelson, director of Regie des Installations Olympiques (the Olympic Facilities Board), which runs the Olympic Park, says one solution might be to tie up passenger ships at the city's wharves and use them as floating hotels.

As Mr. Walter sees it, time is of the essence and too little remains to compete the complex organization necessary to stage the games. "We had four years to prepare for 1976," he says, noting that some 30 competition sites would have to be restored to exacting Olympic standards after four years' use and that numerous training facilities would have to be found. "In 1976 we had approximately 50 training sites where we provided 16,000 hours of training to all athletes," he says. In addition the Swiss timing system would have to be reinstalled for any games.

Mr. Walter points out that, besides this, the Olympic stadium is booked throughout the year -- by the Montreal Expos baseball team (who are scheduled to play nine home games during the Olympic period), the Alouettes football team, and those staging Moto-cross events, soccer matches, and rock concerts.

While the citizens of Montreal are aware of the economic benefits the games would bring to the city ($2 million Cdn were pumped into the Canadian economy by the 1976 games), they are also conscious of what they would cost to stage -- by all reports something in the region of $400 million Cdn, a sum that would have to be found be federal, provincial, and municipal governments.

Local taxpayers can hardly have forgotten the $1 billion Cdn deficit they were saddled with after the 1976 games -- a deficit that brought increased real estate taxes and a tax on tobacco in its wake.

Though it might help erase the deficit, Montreal's Mayor Jean Drapeau is not in favor of bringing the games to the city for a seccond time, Mr. Walter says. "I think he's very wise. I'm not sure they would be profitable."

It is being pointed out here that the only income that would accrue from a second Olympics in Montreal would come from ticket sales. Proceeds from ticket sales in 1976 amounted to $27 million Canadian. It is considered too late to organize an Olympic lottery and sales of coins and stamps, which raised $430 million Cdn four years ago.

In 1976 it cost $100 million Cdn to protect athletes and officials and tied up 16,000 members of the armed forces for four months. It is not certain that the Department of National Defense would be prepared to allocate so many men for such a task again.

"It's Moscow or nowhere," Mr. Walter declares, echoing the official IOC line. "The Russians have been preparing for this for three years," he says. "Their facilities are as good as ours were in 1976." Mr. Nelson adds that the Regie des Installations Olympiques Regie des Installations Olympiques has not been requested to study the feasibility of holding the games in Montreal. This may indicate that neither Ottawa nor the provincial government really believes they can be staged here so late in the day.

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