Olympic Games: Sydney `on track' as sites near completion

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The Independent Online
A YEAR and two days before the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics, the organisers visited London yesterday to announce that preparations for the first Games of the next millennium are nearing completion.

"The Olympics and Paralympics are coming, ready or not, and I'm happy to report that our venue construction is in the final countdown phase," Michael Knight, the Sydney Olympics Minister, said at the Australian High Commission.

"The Olympic Co-ordination Authority has completed 90 per cent of the construction program [including the 110,000-seater Olympic Stadium]," Knight added. "And in the next couple of months, the finishing touches will be put to five of the final batch of venues."

Yet the organisation of the Games has not been without hitches. Aboriginal groups have protested at the Games being held in a country where they claim that the indigenous community has been systematically discriminated against.

The scheduling of the track and field events has also been a problem. The most remarkable thing about Sydney 2000, however, is how little controversy there has been. Host cities are regularly plagued with worries about exceeding budget, about venues not being ready and about environmental problems caused by building.

"We're on track, but we're not complacent," Knight said.

One issue that should be resolved soon is the athletics timetable, which has been criticised by the International Amateur Athletic Federation. The governing body was unhappy that it had not approved the itinerary before tickets were put on sale. The IAAF has said that it requires a day's break between the semi-finals and finals of any event of 400 metres or longer, with two days break for races of 3,000m and more. "The timetable presented by the organising committee has not been approved by the IAAF and therefore cannot be considered valid," the IAAF said last week.

Knight said yesterday that he expects an agreement will be worked out by the International Olympic Committee's president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, and the IAAF's president, Primo Nebiolo, when they meet later this month in Lausanne. He said he had discussed the issue with Samaranch last week. "I look forward to a resolution by the end of the month," Knight said.

Whatever happens, Knight added, the date of the women's 400m final will almost certainly remain unchanged, because tens of thousands of Australians have already bought tickets to the event, hoping that they will be watching their double world champion, Cathy Freeman, challenge for gold.

Knight said yesterday that he hopes that tests for human growth hormone and EPO can be developed in time for the Games. Neither of the performance- enhancing drugs can be detected in standard urine tests. Both are believed to be widely used in a number of sports.

"We have set aside money for blood testing, and we are happy to introduce it if there is a suitable test," Knight said. "It's in the hands of the scientists. We need a test that will hold up and be sustainable in court."

Yesterday also saw the re-branding of the Great Britain Olympic team as "teamGB" and the launch of a new logo - a lion-shaped Union Jack above the Olympic rings. A photo-montage - "representing the past, present and future" of British Olympians, according the British Olympic Association's chief executive, Simon Clegg - had one notable absentee, Linford Christie.

"There wasn't room for everyone," a spokesman said, denying that the BOA was distancing itself from Christie because of his recent drugs test failure, over which UK Athletics, the national governing body, subsequently found him not guilty.

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