Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, August 5, 1999

An update on the
Sydney Olympics

WHILE the rest of the world counts days until the year 2000, Australia is counting the days to the Sydney Olympics, which will be 400 on Aug.12, next Thursday.

I asked for an update from Australia's consul general in Honolulu, Peter Wolcott. He had a role in winning the Olympics for the Aussies as a loaned foreign service officer with the title "international manager for bid relations" in 1991-92.

Success came in 1993 when the International Olympic Committee chose Sydney over Beijing by two votes out of 90. This came in a run-off after Manchester, Berlin and Istanbul were eliminated.

The victory was quite a coup. Australia, a country of some 18.5 million people, already had hosted an Olympics in Melbourne in 1956. Gigantic China never has been host.

China made much of that and of the significance of choosing it to open the new millennium. China carried the baggage, however, of the still-remembered Tiananmen Square massacre and worries about competing in Beijing's smoggy atmosphere.

Put the interest of athletes first, Australia argued. It offered (1) the eagerness of a sports-loving country, (2) a commitment made even before the selection to start building facilities to be used, win or lose, (3) the likelihood of absolutely great weather in the Australian springtime, which September is, and, finally, (4) the promise of an athletes village near the beauties of Sydney Harbor that will allow all participating athletes to be housed together -- an Olympic first.

Greece has won the 2004 site selection. If China offers itself again for the 2008 games it may contend against Africa, also seeking a "first ever" selection.

Wolcott said it looks as though the production budget will be balanced and everything in place for next year without any final frantic rush. TV rights will pay close to 40 percent of the cost, ticket sales some more, government much of the rest. The over-emphasis on commercialism that was criticized as part of the all-private funding of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta will be toned down.

NBC has the American TV rights. A lot of key events will be run in the late morning in Australia so that they can be live for evening viewers in the big U.S. East Coast market. Because of the International Date Line, the opening will be Tuesday, Sept. 14, for America -- Wednesday, Sept. 15, in Sydney. Events will run through Oct. 1, Australia time.

Wolcott likely will be watching on TV in the downtown Honolulu consulate general, which occupies a penthouse at Bishop and South King streets, or from his hillside home in East Honolulu.

Since most air traffic from the U.S. to Australia now is nonstop from the West Coast to Sydney, Wolcott may not even have a flood of official visitors to greet. He expects, however, that some U.S. teams will do their final training in Hawaii.

Estimates are for 150,000 foreign visitors to attend the events, with Japanese leading the pack. The total includes 15,000 media personnel and 10,000 athletes.

Accommodations may be tight. A committee is at work on facilitating lodging in bed-and-breakfasts and in private homes. Sydney has far fewer international standard hotel rooms than Waikiki. Many Aussies have a preference for bed-and-breakfasts when they travel in-country.

Wolcott says the 2000 Olympics should showcase the modernity and beauty of Sydney and the cosmopolitan nature of Australia's population, now 8 percent Asian.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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