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Original Issue


As the Olympic movement looks ahead to the 2000 Summer Games in
Sydney, Australia, and beyond, what lessons has the
International Olympic Committee learned from Atlanta?

On balance, the Centennial Games are being billed as a success
in the areas that matter most to the IOC: the competition, which
was generally outstanding, and the television ratings, which
were excellent in the U.S. and overseas. "The four billion
people who weren't here think the Games were terrific," says
Canadian lawyer Dick Pound, an IOC vice president.

And the 1.4 million people who were in Atlanta, clogging the
main thoroughfares in search of something to do besides purchase
T-shirts and pins from the ubiquitous sidewalk vendors? They
might be forgiven for tempering their praise a bit. Between the
Centennial Park bombing, the overcrowded subways, the
dysfunctional bus system, the breakdown in the technology
designed to distribute information to the media, and the
carnival ambience of unchecked commercialism, the Games in
Atlanta suffered more problems than any since those of Munich in

Some of the woes can be ascribed to growing pains, for these
were by far the largest Olympics ever held, a record many IOC
officials hope will never be broken. For the first time, every
invited nation--this year there were 197--came to the Games.
Ticket sales reached 8.6 million, compared with 5.7 million for
the Los Angeles (1984) Games and 3.5 million for those in
Barcelona ('92). A total of 10,750 athletes were accredited, 15%
more than the 9,364 who competed in Barcelona.

"What we did was organize the equivalent of 2 1/2 Olympic
Games," says Billy Payne, president and CEO of the Atlanta
Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG). "Atlanta was enormous in
the context of Olympics history. With that came some problems
with transportation and technology. Unfortunately those two
arrows went right to the media. But we made the Olympic
experience available to millions and millions of people, and
that will be the long-term landmark of these Games."

True, the Games were available--but for a hefty investment.
Payne makes it sound as if he were some sort of Olympic Robin
Hood bringing the Games to the masses, when in fact he was using
ticket sales as an unprecedentedly high percentage of his
revenue stream. Tickets for the opening ceremonies were as steep
as $636. Gymnastics, a sport that demands an intimate setting,
was held in the immense spaces of the Georgia Dome, where some
nosebleed seats cost more than $100. Nor were the media alone in
feeling the sting of Atlanta's overmatched transportation
system, which sometimes left spectators and even participants
stranded for hours.

Sydney's organizers are already promising that no such
transportation problems will surface in their city. For one
thing there will be fewer spectators: Current estimates are that
6.1 million tickets will be sold. "In Sydney ticket sales are of
far less importance to the budget than they were in Atlanta,"
says Jacques Rogge, an IOC member from Belgium. "We need
spectators at the Games, but the IOC does not insist on
100,000-seat stadiums. The Olympics are primarily put on for

In Sydney most athletes and members of the press will be able to
walk from their lodgings to the venues. The Sydney Olympic Park,
eight miles west of the city center, will contain the Olympic
Village, the Officials' Village, the Media Village, the Main
Press Center, the International Broadcast Center and 15 of the
27 Olympic sports venues--all within a circle two miles in
diameter. Since the city is set on a harbor, ferries will be
used to supplement ground transportation. Most important,
Sydney's existing public transportation system, unlike Atlanta's
MARTA, is designed to handle the kinds of numbers Australia's
largest city (3.74 million in the metropolitan area) will see
during the Games.

"Certainly for the future, the focus should be on bids from the
largest or second-largest cities in a country," says Australia's
Kevan Gosper, a member of the executive board of the IOC. "While
Atlanta was not in that category, we thought that the U.S. was
the one country that could mobilize resources in time to bring
in the necessary people and technology." Atlanta did import bus
drivers (as well as buses), security personnel and 45,000
volunteers from all over the country, but ACOG didn't bring them
in early enough to give them even a rudimentary familiarity with
the area. For the first week the Games were referred to as the I
Don't Know Olympics because that was the answer most often given
by ACOG volunteers when asked for directions. "In Sydney," says
Gosper, "all the volunteers and drivers will be drawn from the
city itself."

Sydney also hopes that planning will help it avoid the
technological glitches that plagued Info '96, the IBM system
that was supposed to distribute competition results and
athletes' biographical information instantaneously but was so
slow that people began referring to it as Info '97. Mal
Hemmerling, the CEO of the Sydney Organizing Committee for the
Olympic Games (SOCOG), vows that for 2000 the system will be
fully tested and operational a year before the lighting of the
flame. That is the same deadline Hemmerling has set for all the
venues to be built. "We already have $1.3 billion [$910 million
U.S.] of our $2 billion [$1.4 billion U.S.] budget raised--more
than 60 percent--with four years to go," Hemmerling says. "That
was Billy Payne's biggest problem: He was always chasing after
revenue while trying to do all these other things." (ACOG, which
had a budget of $1.7 billion, says it will break even on the '96

A number of IOC members have openly declared that a privately
financed bid like the one presented by Payne and ACOG will never
be accepted again. "In the future we'll insist on a government
grant or loan guarantee--something that's on paper," says Pound.
"Atlanta left $75 million to $100 million on the table because
it had to negotiate with NBC at the very bottom of the market
[in 1993 ACOG received some $310 million of the $456 million in
rights fees paid by the network]. But Atlanta had no choice
because it had to start building the stadium."

Payne bristles at the suggestion that he could have gotten more
money from NBC. "To talk about what-ifs is pointless," he says.
"We got what the market would bear then. It would have been
easier if the government were underwriting the bill, but U.S.
governments are not going to underwrite the Olympic Games to any
large measure."

No? The IOC demanded and got guarantees from Salt Lake City and
the state of Utah to cover any debt accrued by the 2002 Winter
Games. And there is little doubt that much of the commercial
tackiness that tarnished the Atlanta Olympics was the result of
ACOG's financial desperation.

In these times when cities are lining up to bid for the Games
(11 are in the hunt for 2004), the IOC can insist on just about
anything it wants. And one thing the IOC dearly wants is to
curtail street vending. "That Atlanta was willing to have its
image as an Olympic city spoiled for a couple of hundred dollars
in fees from each street vendor is hard to understand," says
Thomas Bach, an IOC executive board member from Germany. "The
flaw here was that the city had no interest in the financial
success of the Games. That's going to be different in Sydney."
Indeed, the government of New South Wales, of which Sydney is
the capital, will underwrite the cost of venue
construction--estimated at $1.2 billion ($840 million U.S.)--in
exchange for which taxpayers have been guaranteed 90% of the

A vibrant, outdoorsy community, Sydney is already touting 2000
as the Athletes' Games because the city's air quality and
average daytime temperatures (61[degrees] to 68[degrees] in late
September) should be optimal for athletic performance. The trick
will be to keep the number of athletes at the Athletes' Games
below the IOC's self-imposed ceiling of 10,000, which, along
with 5,000 officials, is all that Sydney has agreed to house. To
go forward, particularly now that gender equality is an IOC
priority (and thus more women's sports, such as weightlifting
and water polo, are banging on the gates), the IOC will have to
start making cuts. "At some point we're going to have to take
some sports and ask whether we can afford to keep them on the
program," says Pound.

This much the Sydney organizers have promised: The parade of
athletes in the opening ceremonies will be completed in
significantly less time than the two hours it took in Atlanta,
even if it means marching the athletes in from two portals at
once. "We begged ACOG to use energetic music," says Anita
DeFrantz, the senior IOC member from the U.S. "You don't have to
change the opening ceremonies. You just have to change their

Moving them Down Under should prove a pretty good start.

COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL PUGH/COCA COLA CO./AP [Girl and boy holding pins for Sydney Olympics]