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Original Issue


With innovative plans to refresh the spirit of the Olympic Games, the city and its energetic mayor look ahead optimistically to 1976

I have been cartooned and ridiculed for bringing the Olympic Games here," said jaunty Jean Drapeau, the mayor of Montreal, "but now letters of apologies are beginning to arrive." He paused, shrugged and said, "I am accepting them, of course. Graciously."

The mayor was holding forth in the gold-draped and oak-paneled salon de la mairie in Montreal's old gray stone city hall. He was the model of European suavity, wearing a black pinstriped suit with vest, a fresh white shirt, a dark blue tie with many tiny white dots. The pink skin was aglow on his bald pate, his black eyes were quick as a Quebec chickadee's. He said, "Some people were greatly opposed to having the Olympic Games in Montreal. They feared a high price in taxes would result. They were afraid that the Games would cost so much in public monies. It was a natural enough reaction, we understood it, but it was, of course, wrong. We promised them that no public funds would be spent. We promised them that the Montreal Games would be wholly self-financed. We promised them that we would produce an Olympics to prove that small countries, even poor countries such as in Africa, might someday play host to the Games. We promised them that the Games in Montreal would be on a smaller scale, an event with charm."

The mayor sighed. "Some people did not believe the promises. But we have always said that there was no alternative to our promises. It was so with Expo '67, when no one believed, and it was so when we built Jarry Park for the Expos baseball team—all just as we promised. We simply will do the Olympics the way we have promised. We do not even try to think of other ideas. Ah, if we did, we might find ways for us not to produce the Olympics as we have promised. Yes, yes, there have been skeptics, but"—the mayor raised his eyebrows—"now I think the people are beginning to see that we will succeed."

A lot of people far beyond the borders of Canada are scrutinizing the developing Games of M. Drapeau to see just what form the success may take. The hope is that somehow the promises of monsieur le maire will be kept, that the desperately grandiose spectacle that the Olympics have come to be will somehow end up reduced in size, refined in form and refreshed in spirit. As everyone knows, recent Games have become so financially costly and so socially traumatic that only the strongest and richest of nations dare hold them. Bids to host the Summer Games of 1980 have come from only two sources—the world's twin superpowers, Russia (for Moscow) and the U.S. (for Los Angeles). Of course, both Moscow and L.A. were gloriously one-upped for the 1976 Games by the lonely figure of Jean Drapeau, who appeared before the International Olympic Committee in the spring of 1970 with tears in his eyes and holes in his pockets, declaring that the "history of Montreal" was the only financial guarantee the IOC needed that a proper Canadian Olympics would indeed be produced between the dates of July 17 and Aug. 1, 1976. In contrast to Drapeau's doughty act, the Russians and the Americans had swaggered into town with platoons of hard-sell lapel-grabbers and money guarantees upwards of $40 million. The IOC's choice of Montreal was in part dictated by a reluctance to take sides in the East-West political conflict. However, perhaps more important, Drapeau won out because the IOC harbored the wistful hope that somehow its Games could be staged in a more modest, less expensive setting than some recent Olympiads.

So four years have passed since Montreal was selected to produce its Olympics "on a human scale." How goes it? In a word: charmingly.

The organizing committee is called in melodic French Le Comité Organisateur des Jeux de la XXIe Olympiade Montréal 1976—COJO for short—and it is splendidly headquartered in a renovated Old World building, the former Palais de Justice, across a cobblestone courtyard from City Hall. The former palace is designed in elegant Parisian style, a good gray pile of stone gingerbread with white dome, clanking elevator cages of lacy wrought iron, marble stairways, magnificent high-arched ceilings in corridors and offices. Just across the street lie the ancient byways of Old Montreal, lined with the finest French restaurants in North America.

COJO's executive vice-president, Simon St-Pierre, 39, is a very Continental fellow, urbane but wry, cast rather in the image of Peter Sellers, and he said recently in summing up the Olympic situation, "You know, we are beginning to have a good time now. We have gotten the personnel problems much improved and I would say things are going much better." He paused, opened his brown eyes, cocked his head slightly. "When I say have a good time, I do not mean have fun, you understand."

So far the work of COJO has dealt in large part with the not-so-happy matter of money. From the start the policy toward financial details, as enunciated by Jean Drapeau, has been quite clear: "I do not like to be specific if it can be avoided. I have dealt only in large round numbers. I say $250 million for the construction of all the permanent installations, and I do not break it down. If I did say the rowing basin will cost X million dollars and then it turns out to cost more—can you imagine the fingers pointed, the criticisms? So we are not so specific. It is better." At one point a projected COJO budget was printed that purported to detail expected revenues totaling $367.6 million. It listed such items as income from tickets, $9.5 million; from sale of stamps, $3.5 million; from donations and subsidies, $42.6 million—and from "miscellaneous," $298 million. This technique of genteel obfuscation has caused some dissension in Montreal. John Robertson, an occasionally angry though more often whimsical columnist for The Montreal Star, said of COJO's operation: "Sometimes I think it's a ship of fools run by Captain Kangaroo and Walter Mitty. They won't tell anyone anything. Water is the price of fine wine, but the Olympics cost nothing at all. These guys operate like the politicians of Paris: have some wine, have some conversation, things run themselves, open another bottle of wine, everyone bring a brick, and—there!—we've built a stadium. We don't know what the stadium is going to cost, we don't know what the Olympic Village is going to cost.

"I don't know why there is such secrecy. If you talk about the real cost of this Olympics, I'd say maybe $1 billion if you counted the subway extensions. But who really knows? My guess is no one really knows, no one at all. On the other hand I, like almost everyone else here, have an incredible sense of inevitability about all of it. Drapeau will bring it off somehow, and I doubt whether we ever will know what it's costing. And maybe we won't even care. That's the way it is with Drapeau's dream."

One figure readily offered by everyone in authority is $310 million, which is COJO's current projected total expenditure for the Games, including a bizarre but beautiful 70,000-seat stadium, a 7,500-seat velodrome, a rowing basin, staff salaries, security, etc., etc. The figure does not include any "infrastructure" projects, such as the new subway line and stations and better roadways leading to the main Olympic site. As it stands the total is only a little more than half what the Munich Olympics cost. How realistic is $310 million? Simon St-Pierre raised his eyebrows and said, "It is very realistic, believe me. We have figured in the inflation and the cushions we will need for increasing costs. It is all there, yes. The velodrome, for example; it seems now the cost is about $22 million. That was very surprisingly high, about 120% above our expectations. But it is no problem at this point. It is no problem. We have figured it in our totals. We are confident we are right."

So far there have been no bids let for building either the stadium or the Olympic Village. The major Olympic site in Pare Maisonneuve, in a middle-class residential section of Montreal's East End, will eventually be a rather startling complex of sports structures. Already there are—and have been for years—two gymnasium-auditoriums and a swimming pool. Rising steadily as construction crews work 24 hours a day is the velodrome, an exciting structure of skeleton arches that soon will be roofed and sealed to look a little like a flying saucer just landed. Next to the velodrome there is currently a monumental hole in the ground, earliest preparation for the massive stadium complex—actually a combination of three structures. The plans call for, first, a giant skyscraping "mast," a building 50 stories high containing 16 floors of training facilities for everything from judo to fencing to gymnastics to weight lifting—plus two floors for "panorama viewing" restaurants at the top. At the base of the mast is a large swimming center with two 50-meter competition pools, a diving pool and space for 9,000 Olympic spectators.

Then there is the stadium itself, a huge oval doughnut with a roof curving over the seats, a soccer-size field surrounded by a 400-meter Tartan track. In case of bad weather a membrane umbrella can be unfurled from storage space in the mast to shelter the playing area and provide a sealed-off climate both dry and toasty warm.

The mayor will not say what the stadium may cost, only that "It will open by January 1976 because we must have rehearsals with crowds well before the Games so that we will know how 100,000 people in the complex can be handled, and we must practice using the roof."

As for the Olympic Village to house some 8,000 athletes and 4,000 officials, it will be built—somehow—on a large section of a golf course near Parc Maisonneuve. About the only definite information available now is that there will be a tunnel leading out of the village so athletes can get to the stadium and swimming venues without mingling with the crowds. But at this time not even a pencil sketch of the village exists. The mayor himself has no clear idea what form it will take. It is likely, however, that it will be built at least partially of temporary structures, a welcome departure from the expensive white elephant apartment complexes that have housed Olympians in recent Games. "There are all sorts of possibilities," said the mayor. "We hope private developers will build the village, and we have three or four who are serious. Some of it may be temporary. I don't know how much, but perhaps a manufacturer of mobile homes or some other temporary habitat will come in and do it for the advertising value. Olympic athletes are not Boy Scouts, and we do not expect to put them in tents. They must be coddled, you know, and we must be certain that the atmosphere does not damage their muscles or their spirits. We are considering many ideas for satisfactory temporary structures even now."

However vague the village may be, it is alive in the mind of Yvan Dubois, COJO's directeur général of the Village Olympique. He is a generously padded fellow with a gentle, jolly mien; he wears a gold knuckle-duster of a ring made of Montreal's Olympic symbol with a gleaming diamond set in the center. Dubois said he was not at all concerned about the lack of hard information about the village design. "It will be ready, I am certain," he said, "25% by the end of February 1976, 25% in March 1976, 25% in April 1976, 25% in May 1976. I really believe we will be well satisfied. I am more interested now in the morale and the spirit among the athletes in the village. We want them to be happy, to have fun, to be at peace and enjoy the Olympics. These are games, not business, you know. I have many ideas I would like to incorporate to make them happy here. I would like to arrange that each athlete can make a three-minute phone call home—free—while he is in Montreal. We are working to give the athletes special vacation tours through Quebec and Canada after the Games are over at very low rates—so they can have fun. We are going to have 21 television rooms—one for each sport in the Games—and each will have two sets, the first showing live what is happening that day at the venue of that sport, the other showing continuous video-tape playbacks of the performances the day before so athletes can come in and watch themselves perform. I want to arrange a really happy corn-on-the-cob party for athletes after the closing ceremonies. I do not want barriers between the men's and women's dormitories in the Olympic Village—they should be able to mingle, to be together, to love and have fun. This is the 1970s."

Dubois waved his plump hands and his diamond flashed as he said, "Oh, I want this to be a human village, full of good spirit and fun. And that won't depend on how the buildings are built, will it?"

However joyful M. Dubois' dancing visions of the athletes' village, perhaps the most delightfully romantic of all the Olympic ideas in Montreal is that of the "floating village" for the anticipated 3,500-plus members of the press. Michel Labrosse, director of press services, has begun to complete transactions that will bring eight or 10 luxury ocean liners up the St. Lawrence River to the harbor in Montreal and moor them at docks near the Expo '67 site. "At first it sounds perhaps like a crazy nothing idea," said Labrosse. "Then you realize that on a ship you find all the facilities of a hotel phones in the rooms, bars, all-night room service, even three or four swimming pools, saunas, movie theaters, game rooms. It could be very pleasant, we think."

Another original—and romantic—idea that the dream Olympiad of Drapeau has generated is that of funding the Games with little tax money involved. There will be some tax money spent—such as $50 million in federal money for new Canadian Broadcasting Corporation TV equipment, millions more for "infrastructure" in Montreal, more for security forces that may include the army, the U.S. FBI and CIA, Interpol and the Royal Mounted Police. It is possible that the city of Montreal, the province of Quebec and the federal government will have to jointly underwrite the Olympic Village under existing housing agreements. And, so far, no one has figured out the dollar value of the taxpayers' land in Parc Maisonneuve that has been donated to the Olympic cause. Jean Drapeau's Games will not go on without at least a little tapping of the public coffers.

Yet the great bulk of the required money will be raised outside government. And it is here that the Montreal Olympics may be breaking new ground of utmost significance to the future of the Games. Surprisingly, the seemingly enormous fees for the right to televise the Games are only drops in a vast bucket. ABC Sports agreed to pay $25 million, an Olympic record, for North American TV rights, and, based on wishful thinking, a similar amount is anticipated for other foreign rights. Yet, from a potential $50 million or so, COJO will net only about $3 million, for it must give half to Canadian Broadcasting for production costs, 40% of the rest to the IOC and substantial amounts to an agent. So, in fact, the vaunted TV treasure chest contributes less than 1% of the $310 million COJO needs to break even.

Thus we turn to "miscellaneous." Numismatists of the world, stand by, for the vast bulk of the money—$250 million, no less—is to be raised through the sale of coins minted especially by the Canadian government for the Olympics. Simon St-Pierre said, "What is so surprising? It is a major new way of raising money, that is true, but Munich raised something like $213 million when Germany issued new coins for the Olympics. What is so surprising?"

Money from such special coins is made on "sovereignage," the income generated over and above the cost of producing them. J. Neil Asselin, the director general of marketing for COJO, said, "We have a total of 28 different coins, and we will issue them seven different times in all, at six-month intervals. They are coins of the realm in Canada, $5 and $10 silver pieces. The first issue sold out almost immediately: 50% in Canada, 25% in the U.S., 15% in Europe, 10% in the rest of the world. Many buyers are professional coin collectors, but most purchases are made by average people simply interested in a souvenir or in some kind of heirloom for their children."

Despite the encouraging response to the first issue, COJO still could fall short of anticipated income from the coins, for their success is tied to the sometimes wildly fluctuating price of silver. Asselin said, "We have three-fourths of an ounce of pure silver in the $5 piece and 1½ ounces in the $10 piece, and we have people on both sides of the ocean doing nothing full-time but watching the price of silver. If it goes up, we may have to raise the price of coins above their face value. That might hurt the response, but I don't really know. No one knows." COJO also is issuing a number of special Olympic stamps, but philatelists are more conservative than numismatists, and the budget calls for a mere $10 million in revenue from stamp sales.

After the coins the biggest producer of revenue is the Loterie Olympique, a Canada-wide sweepstakes lottery that showers $1 million on one gratified ticket buyer every few months. Originally COJO budgeted $30 million income from the lottery. Astonishingly, the first one, held in February, generated nearly $13 million, and plans call for at least six more lotteries before the Olympics, and perhaps as many as eight.

And one more area in which COJO may reap more than it originally hoped for is the hard-sell field of marketing Montreal's 1976 Olympic Games symbol to commercial concerns. Asselin said, "We had anticipated $6.5 million from this, but it will be much more—perhaps $15 million. The money comes from selling the right to use the symbol. Coca-Cola, for example, will be the official Olympic soft-drink dispenser, and we are talking with such firms as Kodak, Xerox, Longines, Molson's brewery. This is a new program, and we are optimistic about it."

Indeed, optimism is the official Olympian attitude in Montreal for the moment even though enormous amounts of work and money are still required to make Jean Drapeau's dream come true. Some have even remarked on the striking physical resemblance between Drapeau and Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who founded the modern Games. The similarity was never more apparent than on one recent day when Drapeau drew himself up in his elegant reception chamber and said, "The Olympics have had their violence and their shocking affairs, it is true. But the fact that we are so shocked by what happens at the Olympics only confirms the true peacefulness of the Games. We have air crashes and wars and murders around us always, and we accept them without remark, as merely part of our everyday world. When something bad happens at the Olympics we are shocked, traumatized, because it is so different from the gentle, humanistic, true meaning of the Olympics. But in Montreal we will make the Games of human size again, don't worry."



BAROQUE city hall rises behind bouncy Mayor Drapeau. Sale of special stamps (left) and coins will help finance the games.