SOCOG plays down Beach protests

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Organisers of the Sydney 2000 Olympics played down threats of violent protests during construction of the controversial beach volleyball venue at Bondi Beach while unveiling plans Monday for the stadium and the building timetable.

But objectors talked up the prospect of active and sustained demonstrations at the site.

John Quayle, SOCOG's general manager for venue operations, said construction, use and removal of the 10,000-seat temporary stadium would be compressed within six months to minimize the impact on residents near the world-famous beach.

Construction was expected to commence in the first week of May.

Quayle said the beach volleyball venue, the last of the Olympic facilities to be completed, presented organizers with the biggest challenges in terms of both operations and engineering.

But while he was trumpeting a community legacy worth one million Australian dollars (£382,500) as a result of the Olympics, Bondi Olympic Watch spokesman Lenny Kovner was predicting "a war" when construction gets underway.

Kovner said construction of the stadium would impinge on "the rights of everyone to access a national treasure" and cause environmental degradation to the popular beach.

"It will be ugly," he said of the protests. "We've got 860 Bondi Warriors ... who aren't just names on a petition, they're people who'll take direct action, who're willing to put their bodies on the line if needs be.

"I wouldn't rule out sabotage," said Kovner, adding that it was impossible to anticipate the actions of angry Bondi residents.

Kovner said the lasting legacy that SOCOG was offering consisted of works that organizers needed to complete to the existing pavilion adjacent to the beach and local amenities to cater for international athletes.

"It's not much more than a coat of paint on an old building," he said.

Kovner said an alternative venue for beach volleyball was an existing rugby league stadium at Cronulla.

Quayle said he knew Bondi residents would be inconvenienced by the construction but he hoped opponents would get behind the Games.

"We hope that they see that this is the Olympics, that this is Sydney's beach," he said. "... and this Sydney icon and our most famous beach will be showcased to the world."

Stuart McCreery, an Olympic Coordination Authority venue director, said people lying in front of bulldozers or chaining themselves to machinery was "a matter for the law enforcement agencies," and not the builders.

"If people want to express their discontent, I have no anger about it - it's part of the democratic process," but protesters should abide by the law, he said.

A spokeswoman for environmental group, New South Wales Greens, said another key issue was the stadium encroaching too close to the water, possibly preventing people walking the length of the beach and causing a safety hazard.

SOCOG said the stadium would cover about 10 percent of the beach during the Games in September and a further 10-15 percent during the construction phase, which should be completed in June or July.

But McCreery said the public would have access to the waterfront across the length of the beach under normal weather conditions.

He said construction of the stadium would require the use of a "geo-fabric sausages" containing a slurry of sand to protect the playing surface.

The contractor would use a 6,500 cubic-meter (229,545 cubic-feet) stockpile of sand, gathered via two shallow scrapes of the beach surface, and drive about 320 removable screw piles, of about 7 meters (23 feet) in length and 170 millimeters (6.7 inches) in diameter, into the beach to stabilize the stadium.

Beach volleyball competition is scheduled for Sept. 16-26 and will involve 24 teams in each of the men's and women's categories.

More than 60 percent of tickets for the beach volleyball program were sold in the first offer, with a further 63,000 tickets expected to be on sale for all 18 sessions in the upcoming release.