Salt Lake's Cleanup Man

When an ethics panel earlier this month implicated two dozen members of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee in an alleged campaign to trade favors for the city's designation as site of the 2002 Winter Games, sponsors of the billion-dollar event slipped away like rats leaving a sinking ship.

The findings led to the resignation of SLOC chief Frank Joklik and others involved in the alleged $1 million spree to swap cash, sex, free tuition and free medical care for the much-coveted Olympic spotlight. The scandal soured the game's healthy image, permeating the SLOC and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Hoping to restore the reputation of the SLOC, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt and committee chairman Robert Garff elected Mitt Romney, a successful venture capitalist and devoted Mormon, to head the damaged panel.

Since his appointment on Feb. 11, Romney has been heralded as the man who would restore not just the wholesome spirit of the Olympics, but the necessary funding.

Romney is optimistic that he can woo sponsors back.

"Ultimately, sponsors and people across the country want to support the Olympics because they know it's not about the managers, guys like me who clean the equipment and hold the stopwatches," Romney told CBS News. "It's really about athletes and young people across America and across the world who want to do their very best, aspire for greatness. Sponsors want to be part of that."

The 51-year-old Republican, who unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1994, is the son of the late George Romney, governor of Michigan.

His Boston company, Bain Capital Inc., specializes in buying companies and turning them around. Domino's was a recent acquisition.

Romney has already set up a meeting with the head of John Hancock Insurance, which canceled negotiations with NBC for $20 million worth of advertising during the televised games.

"I'm going to remind him of all the young people who are thinking about Salt Lake, not as a place where these breaches of trust occurred by a couple of people, but as a place where young people across the world are hoping to ski on the best snow on the Earth and to see the most spectacular venues that have been in the Olympic games," Romney says.

Earlier this month, John Hancock President David D'Alessandro told CBS News, "Our message is, either you clean it up or companies like us are not going to support what is clearly an enterprise that is insincere in its efforts."

While the entire SLOC budget is $1.45 billion, the committee is running over that allowance by 40 percent. Despite the daunting shortfall, Romney is certain he can make up the revenues.

"These tickets are going to be sold quickly," he says. "I'm not concerned about that."

Romney expects more than a quarter of the necessary $600 million to come from ticket sales. As a testament to his confidence, Romney said he won't take a salary until the Salt Lake Olympics shothat they'll run in the black.

Still, Romney has asked SLOC staffers to seek ways to cut the budget. If there are any losses, the city may be stuck with the bill unless -- as Gov. Leavitt has suggested -- the IOC steps in to help Salt Lake financially.

In March, the IOC will hold a meeting to decide whether to ratify the expulsion of at least five of the 14 members who were implicated in the bribe-taking scandal. The committee also hopes to reform the process by which cities bid to host the games.

Scandal observers have speculated that the IOC may decide to oust its president, Juan Antonio Samaranch. Samaranch has announced that he will finish his term, which expires in 2001.

To Romney, the administrators who dropped the ball are ultimately less important to Olympic fans than are the stars of the Games.

"I think when people who are responsible for holding the torch between the games mess up as badly as they did here, you have to go after them," Romney says. "But when it's all said and done, people want to watch the athletes of the world compete in a spectacular competition. They don't want to spend their time thinking about old guys like me..."