Companion Story: Mormon Meddling Rebuffed

(Idaho Statesman, Feb. 4, 2001)

Officials seek to find right mix of church, sports in Salt Lake City

By Tim Dahlberg

The Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY---The fight for the soul of the 2002 Olympics began over a barren parking lot barely a ski jump away from the Mormon Temple.

Olympic officials plan to build a plaza there for medal winners to celebrate, hoping 20,000 people will gather each night to toast the victors.

But they’ll have to do it with nothing more potent than a hot chocolate. The parking lot is owned by the Mormon church, which forbids its 11 million members from drinking alcohol.

Much to the consternation of Mayor Rocky Anderson, Olympic chief Mitt Romney declared the plaza beer-free in deference to the Mormon hosts.

"You don’t borrow a barbecue grill from a rabbi to cook pork chops," said Romney, a practicing Mormon.

The dispute drew headlines in a state where the mention of alcohol always stirs up controversy. Quietly, though, Romney and Anderson worked out a compromise for a beer garden within shouting distance of the plaza where revelers can watch on a big-screen TV and drink low-alcohol beer.

That hasn’t stopped Anderson from planning celebrations of his own across town at turreted City Hall. Bands will play on stages flanking the building and the action probably will be livelier than the official Olympic gatherings.

There will be one big difference between the parties.

"At ours, you’ll be able to get a hot toddy," Anderson said

• • •

A year away from the Winter Olympics, organizers finally succeeded in getting some of the

attention shifted from the scandal-plagued bid process that won Salt Lake City the Games.

Still, the focus is not entirely on ski jumps and ice-skating ovals. Officials have been squabbling over alcohol and how prominently the Mormon Temple will figure in the Games.

The disputes were sparked by Anderson, the free-spirited mayor who swims against the tide in a city founded by Mormon prophet Brigham Young yet enjoys high approval ratings from city residents.

"There was a fear this would be the Mormon Olympics," said Anderson, the titular leader of the non-Mormon community. [He is a former Mormon] "We need to lighten up and show people how to have a good time."

Anderson's intrusion into the Olympic process has raised Romney's ire. But the focus on church influence on the Games is not necessarily bad, says former Mayor Ted Wilson, a Mormon.

"You want to solve the issues now rather than wait until the world is really looking at us," said Wilson, who heads the University of Utah Hinckley Institute of Politics.

In a state whose culture is dominated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Olympic officials are being extremely careful about how they deal with the issue.

The effort wasn't helped by publicity about an e-mail from an SLOC board member to Romney.

It said he shared the Olympic chief's goal to make the Mormon Temple the main image on TV during the Games.

Romney, who was brought in to turn around the scandal-plagued Olympics, denies he said that and insists he wants the Games to stand independently.

"Sports, politics and religion, in my view, are all separate dimensions," Romney said. "I think we make a big mistake mixing them."