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WORLD SPORTS SCENE / RANDY HARVEY : Turner and His Money Become Members of Olympic Family

November 01, 1991|RANDY HARVEY

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Now that his baseball team has concluded its noble but unsuccessful quest to win the World Series, R.E. (Ted) Turner has resumed one of his original pursuits, conquering the world of sports that is not restricted by the U.S. and Canadian borders.

As an indication of the strides he has made, Turner was the keynote speaker at the opening session of the first Olympic Congress of the USA here Thursday.

Only a little more than five years ago, when he was about to embark upon the project that became the first Goodwill Games, Turner was no more popular at U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters than a fellow Georgian, President Jimmy (Boycott) Carter.

But the Olympic movement in the United States moves in strange and mysterious ways. For example, the man who introduced Turner to the 750 Congress participants Thursday at the Broadmoor's International Hall was George Steinbrenner, a USOC vice president.

After being greeted by enthusiastic applause and even some tomahawk chops, Turner amused his audience with 35 stream-of-consciousness minutes that, if nothing else, kept everyone awake, something the Braves had not been able to do even in Game 7 of the World Series for their owner.

When all was said, Turner's message was simple.

"I'm still here," he said.

That defies all odds, as well as logic, because Turner lost $26 million on the 1986 Goodwill Games in Moscow, then returned four years later with the second edition in Seattle and lost another $40 million.

But Turner is nothing if not resilient, boasting about his badge of courage that is stained with red ink.

"I don't think there is anybody in the history of the world who's lost more money on sports than I have," he said, sounding alarmed only because CBS, with its disastrous major league baseball package, might be catching up.

Turner, however, probably will put some distance between himself and the contenders with the third Goodwill Games in St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) in 1994, which he insists will go on.

Furthermore, Goodwill Games officials announced Thursday that nine U.S. cities have become finalists to stage the 1998 Goodwill Games. Groups initially interested from Los Angeles and Orange County have withdrawn. Considering the success, or lack of it, of last summer's U.S. Olympic Festival in Los Angeles, why is that not a surprise?

But regardless of the future of the Goodwill Games, it is increasingly apparent that Turner is becoming a major player in the Olympic movement.

When Turner was announced two months ago as the keynote speaker for the Congress, many people assumed he was invited because of his relationship with former USOC president Robert Helmick, who recently resigned because of private business dealings with Olympic-related clients, including Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.

Helmick had nothing to do with Turner's presence here. Other movers and shakers within the USOC wanted him to open the Congress in recognition of the television exposure he has given to U.S. athletes through not only the Goodwill Games but also anthology shows such as "U.S. Olympic Gold," which is carried weekly on TBS, and which also operates at a loss.

Within the last year, Turner also has been embraced by International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch. Despite resistance from some influential IOC members, Samaranch became a CNN fan during the Persian Gulf War and invited Turner to IOC headquarters at Lausanne, Switzerland, shortly thereafter to discuss mutual interests.

Before they parted, Turner had committed CNN to producing a weekly series domestically and internationally about Olympic athletes.

Turner, in a deal with CBS, also will televise a portion of the Winter Games in 1992 and 1994 and figures to be among bidders to serve as TV host for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

None of those projects are guaranteed to make money. To the contrary, Turner said Thursday that his involvement in the 1992 Winter Games is "almost guaranteed" to cost him $20 million.

But Turner seems willing, even eager, to throw money at the Olympic movement without asking for anything but acceptance in return.

"I love the Olympic sports the most, even though we own a baseball and basketball team," he said.

Is it any wonder the Olympic movement is pleased to welcome him as a member of the family?

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