Let The '04 Games Begin

The bidding is already in high gear to play host after Sydney

Agustin C. Arroyo is not a celebrity. But he's being treated like one during Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Games. The chubby, mustachioed Arroyo, an Ecuadorean member of the International Olympic Committee, will meet with sports ministers from close to a dozen countries, view Turkish art treasures at an exclusive party, and unwind at an Italian fashion show. The reason: Arroyo is a member of the 112-person team that anoints host cities for future Olympic Games. And, as he says of the cities vying for that honor, "if you want to kiss, you have to search for the mouth."

Let the puckering begin. Some 11 cities are vying to bring home the 2004 Summer Games after Sydney hosts them in 2000. The Atlanta games mark the start of a mating dance that will conclude in September, 1997, when IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch is to announce who will snag the rings.

It's a high-stakes contest. Atlanta expects to see a $5.1 billion economic impact from the games, including a new stadium and new roads. But profits aren't a certainty. The 1976 Olympic circus left Montreal with a $1 billion debt, after labor strife and rampant corruption at the top levels of its Olympic hierarchy quadrupled the games' cost.

Still, each bid city is convinced it can handle the event, and they're pulling out all the stops to get it. Take Cape Town, South Africa. On July 21, Archbishop Desmond Tutu threw his weight behind Cape Town's bid while hosting a church service in downtown Atlanta. "The archbishop helps us to create awareness and a high level of credibility," explains Chris Ball, chief executive of the Cape Town bid.

Other cities are banking on costly campaigns to catch the attention of IOC members. Stockholm has shelled out nearly $1 million on a lavish hospitality suite and a pavilion. Rome is throwing a fashion show. Turkey, which is trying to lure the Olympics to Istanbul, hosted an elite party July 22 at Turkey House. Samaranch made a brief appearance as other IOC members nibbled Turkish pita bread and rubbed elbows with sports celebrities.

BRINGING IT BACK HOME. Athens, though, is taking a more low-key approach. Having lost a bid to host the Centennial Olympics, it is quietly touting its infrastructure and facilities, barely mentioning its role as the birthplace of the games.

The consensus among some bid cities is that the IOC favorites are Rome, Stockholm, and Athens. But IOC Marketing Director Michael R. Payne warns: "It's difficult to tell until we've looked at all the facts and figures." Meanwhile, the bid cities will compete in an Olympic event of their own.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.