Hard to believe, but it has been 16 years since the Olympic Games were held in our state. As I watch the festivities in London, I remembered the phone calls I had received over the past year from media members in Great Britain, asking me if I had any thoughts on what was going to happen when the games began in London. Here is what I told them:
The athletes will perform magnificently. They are, after all, the best in the world at what they do. The spectators will have great lifetime memories of having watched these athletes. They will put up with long lines, increased security and packed venues because these are the Olympic Games. There is nothing else like them. Television coverage will be spectacular and viewers in all corners of the Earth will be able to watch their favorite athletes, their favorite sports and root for their favorite country.
I said the opening ceremonies will be spectacular. Ours certainly were in Atlanta and in all the other cities that have hosted the games in recent memory. The one exception might be the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul. That is when the organizers released thousands of doves who then promptly flew into the lighted cauldron and incinerated themselves, giving new meaning to the term “bird-brain.” After that, the International Olympic Committee decreed no more live birds.
I suggested to the callers that London might have a few advantages over Atlanta. First, they have the queen of England. We had Mayor Bill Campbell, who could make a racial issue out of a lima bean. The queen lives in Buckingham Palace. I’m not sure where Campbell lives now that he is out of the federal pokey, having served time for income tax evasion, but wherever he is, it’s too close.
The City of London is a world-class city. Atlanta wishes it was. The city’s marketing director told the world that he wanted to beam ads off the moon and put advertising slogans on stray dogs. World-class cities don’t do that. Everybody laughed at Atlanta. Nobody is laughing at London.
London financed its games with tax dollars. Billy Payne, the genius behind the Atlanta effort, pledged to stage the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games without taxpayer funding, which was a good decision since Atlanta is too broke to fix its sewers, let alone finance Olympic Games.
Taxpayer indemnity didn’t stop Campbell and his stooges from trying to extort money from the competitors of Olympic sponsors who were underwriting the games or from embarrassing us with a sidewalk vendors program that looked like a Third World flea market on steroids.
Interestingly, both London and Atlanta experienced flag flaps. In London, the organizers mistakenly displayed the South Korean flag instead of North Korea before a women’s soccer game. The organizers apologized.
Our flag issue concerned the old state flag, which resembled the Confederate battle flag. State flaggers -- whatever happened to them? -- claimed they would sneak the flag into the venues and wave it during the competitions and raise a little hell. They never did.
London’s media are cynical, biting and, at times, unethical. Atlanta’s media were just inept. They were as much over their heads as the guy who wanted to bounce ads off the moon. While they put the organizing committee under the microscope trying to find an ethical or financial lapse -- they never did -- the local media let the city government off the hook. Most of the problems that occurred during our games were as a result of the city’s mismanagement and the media’s reluctance to challenge them, lest they be called racist by Mayor Bill. A petulant newspaper reporter after the games blamed me for everything -- except the fricasseed birds in the Seoul cauldron. I didn’t have the heart to tell Lois Lane that people had a great time in Atlanta and nobody cared about her whinny attitude. Least of all, me.
As you read this, the London Games are going full throttle and may nothing happen to change that. The 1996 Centennial Olympic Games overcame the tragedy in Centennial Olympic Park, a racist city government, special interest protests, whining media and an occasional bus that got lost. Nobody remembers the hiccups today. Instead, they tell me about the friendly volunteers, marvelous athletic achievements, outstanding venues and the experience of being with people from across this globe to celebrate the good that is within us. I hope the London’s games are a whopping success.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139.