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  • Wearing Games Jacket, Billy Payne Talks Golf, Olympics


    (ATR) Billy Payne tells Around the Rings the next U.S. bid for an Olympics will be a winner.
    Billy Payne is Georgia's "most successful Olympian" – according to Governor Nathan Deal. (ATR)

    “I just think it’s time to go,” says the former president and CEO of Atlanta 1996, the last Summer Games on U.S. soil.

    “We need another one.”

    Payne’s comments came Monday at the Georgia Governor’s Mansion in Atlanta at a reception honoring athletes from Georgia who competed in London.

    Known for his persuasive powers on behalf of the 1996 bid, he insists the failure of Chicago 2016 is not a reason to shy away from the IOC, but rather a reason to try, try again.

    “After the Chicago loss, where we Americans were so proud of the bid they put together and the support it seemed to have, we were very disappointed. I think some within the Movement thought ‘Well, gee, if that’s their assessment of our chances, we ought to wait. Wait, wait, wait.

    “My opinion was just the opposite,” he tells ATR. “Whatever point they were trying to make has been made. However, the world does recognize that the United States is a very critical component to the Olympic Games, so I would suspect – and I have predicted, for all that’s worth – that whichever American city next bids for the Olympics is going to win.”

    After the USOC decided in July not to pursue the 2022 Winter Games, an eight-member committee is now examining the issues for a new bid with 2024 or 2026 the likeliest options.

    Payne says he hasn’t given much thought to whether summer or winter would give the U.S. a better shot.
    Olympians and Paralympians mingle outside the Governor's Mansion. (ATR)

    “I would prefer summer. It’s much bigger and has a much greater economic impact, greater TV audiences and a greater manifestation of national pride, so that’s the one I think would more impact the whole country.”

    Asked which city he sees stepping up to the plate, he demurs.

    “I haven’t done a lot of research there,” says Payne, the first man to lead a bid and then head the OCOG.

    If the Jacket Fits

    Despite the presence of five Olympians, nine Paralympians and Governor Nathan Deal, despite the more than 16 years elapsed since the close of Atlanta 1996, still Payne was the star of the show Tuesday.

    The former University of Georgia football star sported his signature tassled loafers and wire rim glasses for the occasion – but donned different outerwear than the green jacket he’s famous for as chairman of Augusta National Golf Club.

    Instead, he wore a navy blazer with the Atlanta 1996 logo, a relic he joked that he hadn’t worn since the closing ceremony 16 years ago and that his wife Martha was thrilled to see still fit.

    In the evening's keynote speech of sorts, Payne heaped praise upon the power of the Games and noted with pride Atlanta's distinction as the first city to host the Olympics and Paralympics on the same stage.

    With his resume as a former OCOG chief and now chairman of the world’s most famous golf club, he's also uniquely qualified to comment on the sport’s reinstatement ahead of Rio 2016.
    Billy Payne and ATR Editor Ed Hula catch up. (ATR)

    He famously campaigned – outside IOC protocol, it’s worth noting – for the addition of a golf tournament at Atlanta 1996 to be hosted by Augusta National.

    Two decades later, the sport is set to tee off at the Games after a 112-year absence.

    “I think it’s maybe the best thing for the game of golf in terms of its worldwide growth that’s happened in the last 50 years,” he tells ATR.

    “I’m just thrilled because my experience has been that once something as important as an Olympic medal is available, that many countries who consider their Olympic participation an extension of their nationalism, of their pride, of their growth, they’re going to say ‘Well, here’s another medal available. Let’s go get it.’”

    Globally, he predicts significantly more resources to be devoted to golf but cautions not to expect any immediate results like, say, a Brazilian on the podium in Rio.

    “As Asia continues to grow, as golf grows in South America – it’ll get a definite kick from the first one being there, I suspect – give it a decade, and you’ll be able to measure, in my estimation, the impact that the Olympics had on the growth of participation,” he says.

    “It won’t happen right off the bat.”

    Reported from the Governor's Mansion in Atlanta by Matthew Grayson

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