San Francisco's Olympic bid hit by stadium news

Updated: November 9, 2006, 6:35 PM ET
Associated Press

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- The untimely and unexpected scuttling of a San Francisco stadium project severely damaged that city's hopes of hosting the 2016 Olympics, while buoying the prospects for Los Angeles and Chicago.

2016 U.S. hopefuls
A glance at the two potential U.S. candidates to host the 2016 Olympics:

CHICAGO: New stadium near Washington Park for opening, closing ceremonies and track and field. Village and most events in the inner-city, using the Lake Michigan waterfront as a centerpiece.

Pros: IOC likes idea of bringing Olympics to the center of a city, as opposed to essentially constructing a new Olympic city on the outskirts, a la Athens and Sydney. Great sports tradition. Would be a first-time host, which adds intrigue.

Cons: Some wonder if Chicago has enough cachet in international circles. Still no concrete financing plan, and the majority of venues are not in place.

LOS ANGELES: Remodel the Coliseum for ceremonies and track and field. Use UCLA and USC for Olympic villages and use existing arenas and stadiums throughout the area for venues.

Pros: Good memories here. The 1984 Games redefined the Olympic movement and made it what it is today. Most of the infrastructure is in place, which means the financial and environmental impact of bringing an Olympics won't be as severe as in first-time locales.

Cons: Many concerned about bringing Games back for a third time, especially just three decades after the last trip. Legendary traffic snarls, lack of a real city center and the other common critiques of Los Angeles would weigh in.

-- The Associated Press

"Not having an Olympic stadium is non-starter No. 1," USOC international vice president Bob Ctvrtlik said Thursday at the close of the USOC's two-day seminar with the potential bid cities. "It's a very difficult hurdle to overcome."

Members of the San Francisco delegation acknowledged as much, saying they were stunned late Wednesday when they heard 49ers owner John York had called off negotiations with the city for a new stadium at Candlestick Point and was considering moving the team to Santa Clara. They said they were heading home to come up with a new location to hold opening and closing ceremonies and track and field.

"We'll look at any and all options," said Jesse Blout, San Francisco's director of economic development. "The mayor wants to win these Olympics."

In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom said he would contact USOC chairman Peter Ueberroth to discuss the developments.

Newsom, who in August said the city would abandon the bid if it "couldn't guarantee certain things," conceded York's announcement was not helpful to San Francisco's chances.

"That's a grand understatement," Newsom said.

The USOC wants to avoid a repeat of New York's failed 2012 Olympics bid. Financing for the New York stadium fell apart about a month before the final vote -- a debacle that led to the city getting only 16 of the 60 or so votes it needed and compelled the USOC to essentially take over the 2016 Games bid process.

San Francisco's loss only can help Los Angeles and Chicago, one of which will likely be the U.S. candidate if the USOC decides in December to nominate a city. The candidates have to give a detailed presentation of their plan to the USOC by March 31. The USOC would choose its candidate in April.

The International Olympic Committee will select the host city in 2009.

Madrid, New Delhi, Prague, Rio de Janeiro, Rome and Tokyo are among the international cities that have also expressed interest in landing the 2016 Games.

Los Angeles is the only U.S. candidate with a stadium in place. The host of the 1932 and 1984 Games would use a refurbished Los Angeles Coliseum. The extent of the restoration will depend in part on whether the NFL returns to Los Angeles.

The city also has permanent venues in place for every sport that needs them, save shooting. They propose using housing at UCLA and USC for the Olympic village. They believe the package they offer -- with more venues in place and fewer financial questions -- will outweigh concerns about bringing the Olympics back to Southern California for the third time.

"I don't see how any other city can beat what we have to offer," said Barry Sanders, chairman of the Los Angeles bid committee.

Chicago proposes building a new stadium in its Washington Park area, which would be the centerpiece of an Olympics that would be based around Lake Michigan and downtown. Chicago 2016 chairman Pat Ryan gave no specifics of how the privately financed venue would be paid for, other than to say the city would make the USOC feel comfortable about its plan.

"It's a process," Ryan said. "We're being very aggressive and diligent to give a measure of certainty."

That's more than San Francisco can say.

The news of York's decision broke only hours before Blout and his delegation were to meet with the USOC folks for a question-and-answer session on the details of the bid.

Not surprisingly, there wasn't much to talk about.

While refusing to say the city would withdraw from the process, Blout and Jaime Rupert, director of communications for the San Francisco bid, said that was an option. They gave every indication the news put the city's efforts on life support.

"If I'm in the USOC's position, I'm not seeing a lot of certainty in that situation," Blout conceded.

York was unapologetic about how his decision would affect the Olympic bid.

He said he repeatedly assured the mayor that any stadium the 49ers built in San Francisco could be used for the Olympics.

"Each one of those times, we kept reminding the mayor that this stadium was being built for our fans, for the players and coaches," York said.

The 49ers are considering moving to Santa Clara, and York said he would listen to proposals if the bid committee was interested in using the franchise's proposed new stadium there for the Olympics.

But there almost certainly won't be any assurances about that by the end of March, when the winning city's final plan must be in place.

The San Francisco bid committee is in scramble mode, and nobody denied that Thursday.

"Any time you get surprised by something like that, it's a little bit of a shock," Ctvrtlik said. "But we'll work together to find a solution. If it includes San Francisco going forward, that's great, and if it doesn't, then let's make that decision. But we need to know the real information."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press