Seeking an edge at Sydney


As all eyes turn to Sydney, local organizers working to bring the Olympic Games to this region in 2012 head to Australia for what is essentially a command performance.

Over the 17 days of Games, about a dozen local representatives - including the mayors of Baltimore and Washington - will make the trek to the land 15 time zones away, to be seen, schmooze and learn how an Olympics is done firsthand.

"We'll be soaking in the flavor of what it's like to experience one of these events," said Dan Knise, president and chief executive of the Washington-Baltimore Regional 2012 Coalition. "I think it will make us better communicators when we get back. We'll be able to share real-life examples of what it did for Sydney and what it could do for this region."

Those local representatives will be joined by groups from the seven other U.S. cities bidding on the 2012 Games: San Francisco, Dallas, Cincinnati, Houston, New York, Los Angeles and Tampa-Orlando, Fla.

"Clearly, it's a place to see and be seen," Knise said. "You just can't not be there. You've got to show you're a serious contender."

For local organizers, the travels in Sydney will mark the first time in a long time that they will be out of uniform - not wearing the usual 2012 shirts, buttons and hats. Nor can they hand out any promotional material. All that is forbidden by Olympic regulations.

While there in a staggered schedule, the local delegation will attend seminars on how to design and plan the Games and visit the media center, stadium and accreditation center, among other places.

Knise is particularly interested in seeing how visible security is, how long it takes to clear venues after events, and what Sydney did with signage and banners to create "an Olympic look."

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams are expected to have a formal meeting with U.S. Olympic Committee officials and heads of the National Governing Bodies, the administrative bodies of the various sports.

Although no international lobbying is permitted for those coming Games, the mayors can promote their cities.

"The mayors' going sends a very strong signal about how serious our bid is and how real the cooperation between the cities is," Knise said. "We're going to make sure people know we're committed as a region."

Coalition Chairman John Morton III said he worked hard to get the two mayors to go and to make the trip jointly.

"They're both extremely busy men," he said. "They have pressing issues at home, and their time is very valuable. For them to take four or five days to go to Sydney is incredibly significant." Morton is president of Bank of America's mid-Atlantic banking group.

But there is another critical reason that the mayors need to attend. During the next legislative session, the coalition will ask lawmakers for a financial guarantee. Since the Atlanta Games, the International Olympic Committee requires government support for any city bidding for the Games.

"It's always a challenge, because you're asking people to make a commitment to something very far out," Knise said. "But we think that we'll make a very compelling case."

In Florida, for instance, the governor signed into law in June a bill calling for Florida taxpayers to guarantee up to $175 million in losses should the Games come to Tampa-Orlando in 2012 and suffer financial losses.

And so the mayors' visit goes beyond simply being ambassadors for their cities.

"They have a fiduciary duty to learn about the risks and rewards to their respective cities of hosting a Summer Olympics," Morton said. "And how better to gain that knowledge than from firsthand experience?"

It also is important that city officials see the commitment that cities have to make to be host to the Games, Morton said. "The logistics are huge," he said. "There are financial risks. There are transportation risks. There are security risks. Once you're there, you'll understand within milliseconds that the rewards so far outweigh the risks that any city would be foolish not to pursue the opportunity to host an Olympics."

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