Athletics / Goodwill Games: Olympics are a distant goal for St Petersburg: Facilities must be improved

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AS A stunning backdrop for the internationally televised Goodwill Games, St Petersburg has been unsurpassed. As a candidate for the 2004 Olympics, it will have serious problems persuading the International Olympic Committee it can successfully stage the world's biggest sporting festival.

Jack Kelly, the Goodwill Games president, has been a master of diplomacy throughout the 16-day multi-sports Goodwill Games which ended yesterday, making light of the usual endless succession of problems. But even he lost his temper when Russian officials promised, but did not deliver, a proper ice-skating rink in time for the start of either the short-track speed skating or the figure skating.

'I told the mayor (Anatoly Sobchak) that in Russia you create a problem, then solve the problem and think you've achieved something,' Kelly said. 'We think you've finished even.'

Russia poured the full resources of the communist state in to the 1980 Moscow Olympics; now private enterprise must fill the gap in a country where Kelly, among others, has discovered rhetoric often substitutes for reality. Not surprisingly, Kelly, an experienced and skilful administrator, doubts whether St Petersburg will have either the facilities or the expertise to hold an Olympics.

'I think 2004 will be too soon in terms of the extensive preparations that will really be necessary to host 26 sports in different venues,' Kelly said. 'Here we have some venues for three or four sports. The Olympics would require more facilities and more infrastructure than exists today.' Certainly in terms of architecture, culture and history, St Petersburg rivals Barcelona, which staged a spectacular and successful Olympics two years ago. But even Sobchak, an enthusiastic and unabashed advocate for Russia's second largest city, is cautious about the Olympic bid prospects.

'I've discussed the possibility with Juan Samaranch (the IOC president),' Sobchak said. 'He has given the highest marks to our staging of the Goodwill Games. But we have major competition from the other cities who are bidding for the Olympics - cities such as Berlin, Stockholm, Paris and Cape Town.'

Kelly believes St Petersburg should go ahead with its bid, then try again for 2008 and 2012. 'It has a mixture of east and west, it has all the peripheral programmes necessary, the culture and the arts. But it certainly needs more facilities and more hotels.'