Olympic Games: Urban rivalry disrupts Sydney plans

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The Independent Online
IN A bid to head off a series of rows which threaten the future of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Paul Keating, the Australian Prime Minister, yesterday intervened to call for an end to the squabbling.

Members of the International Olympic Committee have become concerned about the planning for the Sydney Games in the wake of a debilitating dispute between public and sporting officials in Sydney and Melbourne, the city which lost a bid to stage the 1996 Olympics to Atlanta.

The dispute centres on allegations, which surfaced in the Melbourne press several weeks ago, claiming that Phil Coles, a Sydney-based member of the Australian Olympic Committee, had sabotaged Melbourne's bid for the 1996 Games by secretly leaking sensitive information about it to Atlanta officials in the lead-up to the IOC's selection of the United States city.

Coles has vigorously denied the allegations, as has John Coates, the AOC's president. Australian Olympic officials and the Sydney press have dismissed the claims as an example of Melbourne's sour grapes at not only losing the 1996 Olympics but also seeing the 2000 Games awarded to Sydney, a city against which it has always harboured a rivalry.

The dispute, however, did not disappear: in fact civic officials in Melbourne demanded that a public inquiry be set up. They produced print-outs of Coles's telephone accounts during the 1996 Games bidding process four years ago which, they alleged, showed a suspiciously high number of calls to Atlanta.

Coles explained these as part of the normal discussions between Olympic officials during such processes. Jeff Kennett, the Premier of Victoria, recently ruled out an inquiry on grounds of lack of evidence. But he called for the Senate, the upper house of federal parliament, to hold an inquiry into the workings of the Australian Olympic Committee.

Such an inquiry is unlikely to take place, but the affair has already damaged the organisation of the Sydney Olympics at a crucial stage in its groundwork.

Despite this, several Melbourne officials seem unwilling to let it go. When he launched a book on Australia and the Olympic Games in Sydney yesterday, Keating, himself a Sydneysider, said the bickering was hurting Australia's chances of staging the Games successfully. 'We'd be better off moving on without divisive inquiries, which have no justification, as all Australians want to get on with the job of organising our teams and the 2000 Olympics,' he said.

The feud follows another embarrassment for the Sydney Olympics organisers who have been unable to attract anyone so far to fill the key job of running the Games as chief executive of the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games. The job carries a salary of Adollars 450,000 ( pounds 218,000) a year; two Australian candidates have already turned it down.