As officers of the Olympics for Utah Inc. came back from Rome in 1966, having lost their first try to host the Winter Olympics, Maxwell Rich was convinced of one thing. Salt Lake City had to establish itself as a serious player in international sports events if it wanted to be taken seriously. Thus did world-class judo come to Salt Lake City.
Rich pitched the city’s Olympic prospects wearing two hats: as executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce of Salt Lake City and as president of Olympics for Utah, Inc. (known affectionately as OUI).
“The delegation was told they lacked any experience in hosting international sporting events, and that if Salt Lake could promote and host such affairs, that it would help on future bids,” recalled Fred Ball, who succeeded Max Rich as the Chamber’s top staff executive.
Fred Auerbach, then president of the Chamber’s board of governors, and Rich went looking for events. They found the Fifth World Judo Championships, for which OUI became the sponsor. OUI paid part of the transportation, housing and feeding of more than two hundred contestants and officials from twenty-nine countries in 1967. Tickets cost from $2 to $8 for the tournament, which was housed at Einar Nielson Field House at the University of Utah. A torch run from the top of Ensign Peak launched the event, which also included an official parade down Main Street, renamed “Avenue of Nations” for the occasion. “If any of Salt Lake City’s preparations smack of the Olympiad, that’s not without design,” commented the Chamber’s “Salt Lake Business” newsletter.
Salt Lake was the first city in North America to host the event. And it made a valiant effort, with heavy promotion in the newspapers and other media. A “Thousandaire Club” consisted of Salt Lake businessmen who each gave $1,000 to support the games. But it was not to be a success. “No committee ever worked harder to stage an event. No sports event received more publicity from all outlets. It’s just that you couldn’t sell judo here enough to pay its way,” observed veteran sports writer Hack Miller. And the judo federation left the city with neither the press nor the public knowing much more about their sport than when they came, he said.
OUI lost money on it and the Chamber had a big deficit, which it tried to overcome by selling leftover World Federation Judo Medals. “Eventually the matter was closed to no one’s satisfaction, but the initial attempt to show the world that Salt Lake City was ready for international competition was a success,” said Fred Ball years later. “We used it for years as an example of our ability to organize.”
Sources: Salt Lake Business, August 1965; July 1967. Fred Ball’s memoirs in Salt Lake Chamber offices. Deseret News, 9, 12 August 1967.