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In February 1999, Romney was called on to help bail out an Olympic effort that was marred by scandal. Sponsors wondered if they still wanted their names attached to the Games after it was revealed that Salt Lake City's host committee had showered gifts on the international group that had chosen the location. Investigations were underway. The Olympics were in serious trouble.
Still, Romney's implication that he single-handedly rescued the Games is a sore subject in Utah.
Robert Garff, chairman of the Salt Lake organizing committee and a supporter of Romney's presidential bid, says Romney's commercial does overstate the problem. Garff says that contrary to Romney's ad, the Olympics were not bankrupt before he arrived.
In addition, many of the Games' sponsors predated Romney's involvement, said Sydney Fonnesbeck, a former member of the Salt Lake City Council. "He just came in and gathered the money that was already (pledged)," she said.
Fonnesbeck said Romney alienated some people with whom he worked during the Games. "He didn't want to give anyone else any credit," she said. "We became nobodies. A lot of us were hurt and angry. It didn't surprise any of us when he ran home and ran for governor."
And yet, Romney did play a decisive role in righting the troubled Olympics. Richard Pound, a Montreal attorney and a member of the International Olympic Committee, said someone had to take charge and make decisions or the Games would have been a disaster.
That's what Romney did. "There were good people in the organization, but for them to have been able to do the many things that needed to be done, they needed a good leader who could make decisions and empower them," Pound said.
Romney scored a big win early in his effort to preserve the Olympic luster by helping to convince John Hancock to remain a sponsor. Stephen A. Greyser, a professor emeritus at the Harvard Business School and a specialist in sports marketing, said the Olympic brand itself had been at stake. "It was Mitt Romney who was, in essence, Mr. Integrity," Greyser said.
In the end, we cannot award a fully True ruling to Romney's claim when even his supporters say his claim is a little overstated. But there is nothing to dispute that Romney played a vital role in rescuing a very troubled Olympic games and that's why we're rating his claim Mostly True.
CQ telephone interview with Sydney Fonnesbeck, former member of the Salt Lake City Council, September 17, 2007
CQ telephone interview with Stephen A. Greyser, a professor emeritus at the Harvard Business School and a specialist in sports marketing, September 25, 2007
CQ e-mail interview with Richard Pound, a member of the International Olympic Committee, September 25, 2007
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