The same dream but a different vision

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Two emotions co-existed among the members of the Sydney Olympic organising committee present in Atlanta. Apprehension at the enormity of the task revealed by the 1996 experience and relief that whatever they do in 2000 probably has to be better than the most recent Games.

Sydney's brief presentation at the closing ceremony caused controversy back home, over whether the country really needed to use the tired symbols of kangaroos and surf lifesavers to promote itself. But there was general agreement that the one thing that did work was the representation of the sails of the Sydney Opera House, the icon of the 2000 Games. Here was the symbol of a real city, complete with beautiful harbour and Opera House, as opposed to the anonymous and overcrowded concrete jungle that was downtown Atlanta. The Atlanta Games were given their atmosphere by the enormous, enthusiastic crowds who packed all the venues. It is the city itself which will give the Sydney Games theirs.

The Atlanta Games were oppressive - and not just because of the enveloping humidity. The place was packed. Almost nine million tickets were sold and every American within two hours seemed to take it as his patriotic duty to attend and to cheer wildly for any American success. Venues everywhere, from the athletics stadium to the shooting range, were full for the first time in the history of the Games. Sydney, by contrast, is planning to sell only five million tickets, and the number of people making the long plane journey to Australia will be far smaller.

Attending events will not be the struggle it was in Atlanta but there are likely to be some empty spaces. Sydney's organisers are hoping for a mood of enjoyment, rather than one of endurance.

The Sydney climate in September 2000 will also be a relief from the humid midsummer "Hotlanta". The weather will be mild and spring-like, with temperatures in the 70s and the low 80s. Spectators will not be grilled, as they were for example at Atlanta's velodrome, situated next to the bare rock outcrop.

Atlanta's biggest disaster, though, was transport, something Sydney's officials are now focused firmly on. Their argument is that Sydney will be different because the main Olympic venues will be concentrated in two main areas - one at Homebush, in the west of the city, and the other close the harbour. Transport will be by bus, train, or boat.

The Atlanta problems have given rise to concerns about traffic jams in Sydney's Parramata Road, which is the main thoroughfare to reach Homebush, but organisers have already heeded the Atlanta lessons, and plans are under way to give the transportation a dummy run by holding several sports meetings in the city at the same time, well before the 2000 Games.

Sydney has also heeded the management lessons of Atlanta where out-of- town volunteers with little local knowledge were often put in charge of organisation. There was criticism that management was top heavy, with no line managers capable of making on-the-spot decisions.

The other most frequently heard criticism of Atlanta was over its tacky commercialism, whether it was the physical dominance of main sponsors such as Coca Cola, with its giant Coke bottle in the promotional village near Centennial Park, or the streetside T-shirt stalls which transformed downtown Atlanta into an Arabian bazaar. Again, Sydney officials are making it clear the 2000 Games will be different. Strict controls will be placed by city authorities on street stalls, and the organising committee hope to avoid the omnipresence of Games sponsors by the simple method of having fewer of them, but making each major sponsor pay more.

International Olympic Committee officials were conscious of the fact that Atlanta was hosting the private-enterprise Games, with no public money being injected. Whatever shortfall was left by private enterprise had to be made up by the army of willing, though sometimes inadequate volunteers.

That the competition in Atlanta was often so enthralling perhaps reflected America's free-enterprise culture, with its emphasis on individual achievement.

Again, 2000 is aiming in a different direction . Although Sydney will rely on major corporate sponsors, the Games will be funded by both the New South Wales state government, and the federal government, and the attempt will be to encourage a sense of the public good, as opposed to the individual.

There were times during the Atlanta Games when the Olympic dream seemed in danger of being engulfed by the American version. Sydney's aim in four years' time is to restore it to its full glory.