Aug. 23/2000

The 2008 Sydney Olympics will have the largest media centre in Olympic history. A $25 million, 40,000 sq. metre, (430,000 sq. foot) main press centre located in Olympic Park about 12 miles from Sydney and within walking distance of 14 of the 28 sports events, will house about 5,500 print journalists and photographers during the Games. There is a separate broadcast centre housing the television and radio rights’ holders and when fully operational, it will be the largest functional broadcasting facility in the world. Meanwhile the 10,000-seat beach volleyball stadium at Bondi Beach has opened to rave reviews. The stadium will be dismantled after the Olympics.

Computer hackers beware! IBM is responsible for finding and fixing any problems posed by computer hackers during the Games. Australian police will be responsible for finding hackers if they breach computer security. Australian Communications Minister Richard Alston said the use of the Internet to disrupt the Olympics was being treated as a serious threat.

Olympics Minister Michael Knight has scrapped plans to sell “Super Tickets” for the Games, instead 75,000 A-category tickets would be made available at list price to ordinary Australians. There are still 1.75 million tickets available including the 75,000 quarantined from the failed premium ticket scheme. Tickets are now available over the Internet, through telephone call centres and at the box office. There have been unexpectedly low numbers of overseas visitors. Original estimates of 300,000 to 400,000 overseas visitors to Australia were scaled down to 130,000. Olympic organizers are counting on an 11th-hour rally from Sydney residents and other Australian ticket-buyers.

Ooops! Sydney 2000 Games’ medals unveiled recently depict the Coliseum in Rome instead of the Parthenon in Greece, and Greek Australians are outraged. They say that while the Parthenon represents the Olympic spirit of peace, the Coliseum is the site of the bloody gladiatorial battles. Sydney Games’ organizers blame the International Olympic Committee, saying it wanted a design similar to a 1928 medal by Guiseppe Cassioli. But SOCOG said the design is what the IOC wanted – a generic coliseum, and not the famous Rome Coliseum. Meanwhile the medal designer, Wojciech Pietranik, confessed he used Rome’s landmark as his model. And now the IOC said there’s not enough time to put it right.

The Sydney Games Organizing Committee said the Aboriginal flag will be welcome at official venues, though there will be size limits. Under a long-standing rule, flags from non-participating countries may not be flown at the Games, but the Aboriginal flag, which is highly symbolic, would not be considered in this light.

Drag queens will appear in the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympics, in what is being described as the first open display of homosexuality at an Olympic ceremony. Between 40 and 200 drag queens will take part, wearing original costumes from the 1994 film Priscilla Queen of the Desert as part of a celebration of Australian movies at the ceremony.

Tune in. The BBC will broadcast coverage of the Olympic Games 24-hours-a-day from a studio complex built in a Sydney warehouse. More than 350 staff members will be flown to Australia. There will be 550 hours of programming, 330 of which will be on television.

Not again? There’s been a fifth breakdown this month in Sydney’s baggage system, delaying more than 6,000 international passengers. It’s the result of a problem in the $25 million baggage system’s computers. The New South Wales government is spending an extra $1.8 million to hire software specialists who will help upgrade and secure the faulty baggage system. Sydney airport officials are prepared to dump the system if problems persist before the Olympic crunch.

Thirty thousand pots of pansies, primulas and other flowers will be brought in to line Sydney’s public squares and city streets during the Olympic Games. Because September is spring in the Southern Hemisphere, there should be lots of tulips and daffodils.

Twenty-five Australian Greenpeace protesters used brush cutters to carve the word “toxic” with an arrow pointing to Sydney’s Homebush Bay, into a vacant field half the size of a football field, adjacent to Sydney’s Olympic Park, to highlight the failure of Sydney 2000 organizers to meet key “Green Games” promises. Also Greenpeace protesters, dressed in blue protective suits were repacking barrels of toxic waste at a former Union Carbide site on Homebush Bay. The environmentalists said hazardous waste has been found to be corroding drums because of prolonged storage.

Under proposed legislation, troops could assist police in dealing with terrorist threats and with the release of hostages, the detention of suspects, the search of premises, erection of barricades and dealing with bombs, but only with the agreement of the Prime Minister, federal attorney general and defence minister.

The International Olympic Committee has invited Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers to send two observers to the Sydney Games but rejected appeals for Afghan athletes to be allowed to compete. IOC executive board member Jacques Rogge said the Taliban failed to meet the statutes of the Olympic Charter, especially regarding women’s rights.

Money problems. The Salt Lake Organizing Committee has revealed it may have to draw on a contingency fund meant for unexpected costs to balance the $1.33 billion budget, because of the cost of defending former Salt Lake bid officials Tom Welch and Dave Johnson. Ticket sales and hoped-for federal support are the biggest budget question marks so far, but paying for Welch and Johnson’s high-priced attorneys and their planned worldwide travel before a trial has added a worry that could run into the millions of dollars.

Unwanted visitors. Salt Lake City vice detectives are concerned about “circuit girls” – prostitutes who may descend on the city during the 2002 Games. And owners of legal brothels in nearby neighbouring Nevada are awaiting a pay-off from the Games. Also owners of Utah’s legal escort services, private dances and strip clubs are expecting a business bonanza. Vice detectives will routinely check the various bars for illegal activities and will maintain a strong presence in the area of the strip clubs.

Greece has defended its decision to host 2004 Olympic rowing and canoeing events in protected wet lands near Athens, saying the project would actually upgrade the area. Environmental groups have suggested alternative sites for water sports, protesting strongly over the use of the rare bird habitat at Skinias. But the government said the area could be turned into a national park. Meanwhile many groups have voiced concerns over various aspects of the Games, including the construction of an Olympic village at the foot of Mount Parness, which would extend the sprawling capital of four million people further to the north. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and other groups said the ministry’s national park plans included construction projects that collided with environmental protection.

And finally, Greece has announced that headway has been made in the construction of major athletic venues for the 2004 Athens Games. Among the key problem areas the International Olympic Committee was concerned about were various venues, construction of the Olympic village, hotel accommodation, transport and media arrangements