Wednesday, February 7, 2001

IOC rebuffs Salt Lake City on ceremonies,

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) -- A year and a day before the start of the Winter Games, the IOC had a message Wednesday for Salt Lake City's Olympic organizers: Don't tinker with tradition.

 The International Olympic Committee rejected proposals by chief organizer Mitt Romney to change traditional elements of the opening and closing ceremonies and medal presentations, and ruled out plans for using a Los Angeles doping lab for Salt Lake tests.

 At the close of a three-day meeting in Senegal, IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch sent a letter to Romney explaining the board's objections or reservations to his ideas for breaking protocol

 While the IOC endorsed the creative content of the ceremonies, the board said Salt Lake must stick to the framework specified in the Olympic Charter, the committee's bylaws.

 "We are always ready to consider new solutions and ideas," board member Thomas Bach said. "But they have to be according to the Olympic Charter."

 Romney had traveled all the way to west Africa hoping to get the IOC's final approval of the plans. He reported to the board Monday -- when Samaranch was missing with the flu -- and left later that night.

 Among the rejected proposals were:

 -- having all the athletes recite the athletes' oath in unison at the opening ceremony on Feb. 8, 2001. The oath is traditionally recited by a single athlete.

 -- allowing each delegation to make a short greeting by microphone during the opening ceremony.

 -- staging an Ice Capades-style professional figure skating exhibition at the end of the games. This was opposed by the International Skating Union, and the IOC said the traditional gala featuring figure skating medalists will remain part of the games.

 Romney did get the go-ahead on one key change: having the athletes march into the stadium near the start of the opening ceremony rather than toward the end. This will allow the athletes to sit in the stands to watch the show.

 A final decision was deferred on the proposal that generated the most debate: reversing the traditional order of the medal ceremony so that the bronze medalist would stand on the podium first, followed by the silver medalist and then the gold medalist.

 The executive board, which was split on the issue, said it will consult further with the IOC athletes' commission, which had supported the proposed change. Samaranch said a final ruling would be made at the next board meeting in May.

 Salt Lake's proposal is intended to give more attention to the silver and bronze medalists and build the drama before the arrival of the gold medalist.

 "I think it's worth trying," said Bach, a 1976 gold medalist in fencing. "There always will be enough glory for the gold-medal winner. Being the Olympic champion means more than being alone on the podium for 10 seconds."

 Also left for further discussion was a proposal to have the athletes grouped together by sport when they march in the closing ceremony. Since 1956, the athletes have mingled as one -- without any distinction between nationalities or sports -- at the closing.

 Most board members seemed against that idea.

 "This is against the charter," Bach said. "We organize the games to bring athletes together, not to split them apart."

 Salt Lake also suggested holding the medal presentation for men's ice hockey at the main stadium during the closing ceremony. The IOC said it would consider the proposal but only in the event of the U.S. team winning the gold.

 On doping control, the board dismissed Salt Lake's plan to handle drug-testing at the lab at UCLA. This followed the recommendation of the IOC medical commission, which insisted a temporary UCLA-run lab be set up in Salt Lake itself.

 IOC officials said there were too many risks and logistical problems involved in transporting samples and personnel between the two cities.

 Samaranch also noted that Salt Lake had committed itself to having a lab on site in its bid document.

 However, Samaranch said that, in the event Salt Lake's overall budget finishes in the red, the IOC will contribute up to $500,000 toward covering the costs of the temporary lab. Salt Lake projects to break even on its $1.319 billion budget.

 Meanwhile, Samaranch said he hopes the 2002 Games are not overshadowed by the trial of former Salt Lake bid executives Tom Welch and Dave Johnson, who have been indicted in the bribery scandal that led to the ouster of 10 IOC members.

 "I can say on the side of the IOC the scandal is over," Samaranch said. "It will not be very agreeable if the (trial) is going on during the games. This is not our problem. It is the problem of Salt Lake City. We hope it can be solved before the games."

 The trial is scheduled to open in June.