What Sydney must understand 2000 Olympics: Promises more athletes, games, fans, commercialism and hype.


IF 11,000 ATHLETES from 197 countries and would-be countries came to the Atlanta Olympics, more will go to Sydney in 2000. If few foreign tourists attended the 1956 Games because Melbourne was so remote, 44 years later Australia's No. 1 city will be far easier for multitudes to reach.

Especially from Asia. The growing prosperity of the Pacific rim will produce Japanese, Indonesian, Thai, Taiwanese and Singaporean sports fans beyond past imagining. Australia is repositioning itself in the world, thinking more Asian, contemplating an end to the monarchy and the British link. These will be Asian games. If the emergence of African medal winners marked Atlanta, much greater Asian athletic prowess is likely at Sydney.

What the 100 Sydney official observers at Atlanta learned was that while the Games went flawlessly, Atlanta's transportation failed to cope. The computer information system got off to a slow start. If the point of observers is to learn what not to do, it is not to break in the information system at the Games but have it up and running. Perhaps Sydney's transportation infrastructure will cope better than Atlanta's. And just perhaps, the state of New South Wales will invest more than Georgia did.

But Australia has a new conservative government and is as market-minded as this country. It was churlish of Juan Antonio Samaranch, the ancient and permanent Spanish president of the International Olympic Committee, to carp about the excessive commercialism of Atlanta in his post-mortem, when little beyond self-congratulation is expected. Atlanta was chosen over sentimental favorite Athens for these Games because of its promised commercialism.

The Sydney games in four years will be no less commercial, even more global, even more balanced between men and women, perhaps even more exciting. And somewhere out there, in the streets of Baltimore or county fields, is a 12-year-old gymnast, 13-year-old swimmer, 18-year-old baseball player, 20-year old javelin thrower or 30-year-old canoeist or rider who is going to be there. Probably win a medal, too.

Pub Date: 8/08/96

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