The Royal Plan Prince Albert's dream is to make Monaco a mini center for world sports--including pro football

November 04, 2002

The Crown Prince sits in his office in a spacious room in the
Palace of Monaco, which is housed in a building that rests atop a
foundation that was laid around 1215. Despite the medieval
grandeur of this setting, the artifacts and mementos that clutter
the office seem more appropriate for a U.S. sports bar than the
sanctuary of royalty. Here's a photo of Prince Albert fencing.
Here's a certificate confirming his proficiency in jujitsu,
another in scuba diving, another in marksmanship. Here's a photo
of the prince piloting a bobsled in the Calgary Olympic Games,
and here's another picture of him driving a Mitsubishi as it
crashes through a gully during the Paris-Dakar rally. His
inventory of sports collectibles includes torches used in nearly
every modern Olympics.

Perhaps it is natural that given his obsession with the sporting
life Prince Albert has a plan, an ambition if not a goal, that
his homeland, which is renowned as a world headquarters for
glamour, should function as something larger than a play yard for
the rich. He spreads his hands, smiles and declares his vision:
"A mini center for world sports! And to a certain extent, it
already is."

He points out that discussions with the NFL to bring an NFL
Europe franchise here are ongoing. That potential club, the
Monte Carlo Pirates, would perform in the slick Stade Louis II
(capacity 20,000-plus), home base of Monaco's professional
soccer team, which competes in the top division of the French
League. In 2000 the principality opened a glitzy,
glass-exteriored convention center, the Grimaldi Forum (named
after the family that established Monaco's existing monarchy),
that is large enough for any indoor event. The Senior ATP Tamoil
Legends of Monaco tournament will take place there this month,
featuring Bjorn Borg, Pat Cash, Yannick Noah and Henri Leconte.
Prince Albert is pleased to be serving as John McEnroe's doubles
partner in a pretournament celebrity event. "John might want to
watch his back," cautions the prince. "When I get mad, I'm known
to be a racket slinger."

Development of these projects is coordinated through a company
known as Monte Carlo Entertainment, whose top officials include
an American in Monaco, Mike Powers, a restauranteur whose mother
was friends with Prince Albert's mom, movie star Grace Kelly,
and who serves as founder and president. (The company's partner
is Paul Anka's daughter Alex, a lawyer who met Powers through a
friend.) "Our aim is simple: to make Monaco the hub of
international sports," says Powers. "Prince Albert is not
connected to the company in an official capacity--he does not
want to be seen as a full-time pro sports promoter--but he lends
considerable personal support to our efforts to bring these
kinds of events to Monaco, particularly if it's a
charity-related one. The G.IN Monte Carlo Invitational golf
tournament, a European PGA-sanctioned seniors event, is a good
example. Most of the celebrities in the pro-am came here because
of Prince Albert. Also, as part of the golf extravaganza, we
were able to construct a par-3 hole, with tee, sand trap and
green, right in the plaza in front of the casino, the premier
location in all of Monte Carlo, and practically on the front
steps of the Hotel de Paris. Let me say that getting the
approval for a project like that would not have been possible
without the support of the palace. And as a result [of holding
the tournament], we'll raise close to $1 million for a 9/11
memorial.

"Now we're going after a basketball event involving Olympic
national teams that is known as the European Final Four," Powers
continues. "It lost its sponsorship in Paris. And I think the day
will come when we'll see a heavyweight title match in Monaco.
Imagine what that ringside will look like."

While Powers discusses the game plan for sports in Monaco, it's
a typical day in the life of Prince Albert. He finds himself on
a breathtaking alpine golf course with Julius Erving, a family
friend who is in town to participate in that G.IN golf event.
Erving glances over at Prince Albert, who is standing beneath a
tent canopy with another ardent amateur linkster, Cheryl Ladd.
"I've experienced some playoff pressure in the NBA, but there's
a guy who's under some real pressure," says Erving. "He's 44,
and the world expects him to get married and produce a son, and
do it pretty soon."

Sitting in his palace office, the same one that his late mother
had occupied, the prince seems happy to discuss that topic.
"There was a misunderstanding that my father has insisted that
this should be a priority. That is not correct. There is no
timetable or deadline for me to get married and have a
son--although I guess it's about time for me to go to work on
that. But I don't want to make a mistake. The perception is that
I prefer blondes. That's not true, not entirely. Physical beauty
is important. But of course there's more. You see a lovely
package, but you have to unwrap it to discover what's inside."

Since the most popular sport among the women who prowl the
beaches of the Cote d'Azur is beau hunting, it's fascinating to
witness the interchange that takes place at the highest level of
competition. At a champagne reception on the roof of Monte
Carlo's Cafe de Paris, a woman with ash-blonde hair and large
emerald eyes and clad in leather pants with a six-inch-wide sash
of diamonds around her midriff has gained an introduction to
Prince Albert. The game is on. Because of the recession of
Prince Albert's hairline, he may no longer qualify to play James
Bond. Still, there is a je ne sais quoi about him. The prince
gazes directly into the woman's eyes. She gazes back, thinking
that if this works out, she might spend the rest of her life in
the pages of PEOPLE magazine. They converse in whispers. But now
the woman senses that the connection isn't happening. Her proud
posture slumps ever so slightly. Then the prince shakes her
hand--"enjoyed meeting you"--and walks on. She's stunned. KO'd.

Chris Le Vine, the prince's first cousin, watches from a
distance, in high amusement, and intones, "and down goes
FRA-zah! Down goes FRA-zah!" He's seen this ritual many times.

If any person knows the prince, it is Le Vine, who is a year
older than Albert. His mother was Grace Kelly's sister. "To
understand Albert, it is important to realize that the Kelly
factor was the significant factor in shaping his life. Our
grandfather--the family called him Pa--prevails as such an
overwhelming influence in our lives."

John B. Kelly also left behind a sporting legacy. Starting in
1946, after he helped found the Atlantic City Race Track, the
zenith of his social season was a pilgrimage, taken with a
dozen-and-a-half carefully selected companions, to the Kentucky
Derby for the weekend. "After John B. Kelly died, Uncle Jack
upheld the tradition, and after he died, in 1985, I took charge
of sustaining the custom," Le Vine says. Prince Rainier,
Albert's father, used to belong to the entourage, and for the
last nine years Albert has been a participant in this adventure.

There's something else that John B. Kelly left behind, something
Prince Albert says is his most cherished possession. Back in his
office the prince slowly opens a small velvet-covered box. It
contains a gold ring, ornate in its etching. "This was my
grandfather's Olympic ring, from the 1920 Games in Antwerp,"
Prince Albert explains. "My mother gave it to me."

Of course there is a story attached to the ring. John B. Kelly,
a Philadelphia bricklayer, traveled to Henley in 1920 to
participate in the ultimate individual rowing event, the Diamond
Sculls, only to be denied a spot in the competition. The heir to
the throne of the British Empire, Prince Edward, determined that
because Kelly worked with his hands, he should be deemed a
professional and not allowed to participate. Later that summer
Kelly defeated the Diamonds Sculls champion, Jack Beresford, in
a race for the Olympic gold medal by a margin that rowers call
"a horizon job." In an act of retribution, Kelly sent the green
cap that he had worn in the Olympic races to the royalty that
had excluded him, along with a letter saying that his son, Jack
Jr., would someday prevail in the Henley race from which he was
excluded. In 1948 Jack Jr. made good on that pledge. So it is a
natural consequence that Prince Albert's deepest enthusiasms are
inclined toward the perspiring arts.

Another love of the prince's is rock and roll music, so we must
ask: If Prince Albert were forced to exist in a world without
sports or one without music, which world would he choose? He
ponders the question for perhaps half a minute and says, "If I
chose the world that included sports, perhaps I could then create
my own music. Of course, you could do that the other way around
as well."

When you are the man who has everything, solutions like that come
easy.

COLOR PHOTO: GERARD RANCINAN GLOBE-TROTTER From golfing in Monaco to bobsledding in Salt Lake, the prince gets around. COLOR PHOTO: JUERGEN SCHWARZ/REUTERS (INSET) [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: PETER DEJONG/REUTERS/POOL HIS PALS Albert greets (clockwise from left) Lance Armstrong, Carmen Electra, Michael Schumacher and Andre Agassi. COLOR PHOTO: VISUAL/ZUMA PRESS [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: ERIC GAILLARD/REUTERS [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: VANINA LUCCHESI/AFP [See caption above]

Crowning Success
While Monaco is trying to land an NFL Europe team, it already
hosts a number of high-profile teams and events.

A.S. Monaco FC pro soccer team of the French League
Senior ATP Tamoil Legends of Monaco tournament
G.IN Monte Carlo Invitational pro-celebrity PGA event
Monaco Grand Prix auto race

The mementos that clutter the Prince's office make it look more
like a sports bar than a royal sanctuary.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)