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Sydney Reaches for What Is Within Its Grasp

2000 Games: While Atlanta failed to match Barcelona, Australia chooses a smaller scale.


ATLANTA — When officials from the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games returned home from the 1992 Summer Olympics, they felt a sense of foreboding, fearing that they would not be able to duplicate Barcelona's success. It is doubtful that organizers of the 2000 Summer Games are as anxious as they return home today to Sydney, Australia.

It is not only that Atlanta did not set as high a standard as Barcelona. It is also that Sydney has never aimed as high as Atlanta.

Billy Payne, president of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, has often said that his goal was to stage "the biggest peacetime event in history and the best Olympic Games ever." The Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games would be satisfied with the latter.

Smaller, SOCOG officials say, is better.

Atlanta's Games were the largest ever with close to 11,000 athletes, 11 million tickets and two million visitors to the city. Sydney officials estimate that they will have no more than 10,000 athletes, 6.5 million tickets and 245,000 visitors as they try to reduce the Summer Olympics to a manageable size for their Sept. 15-Oct. 1 Games.

For that reason alone, they should have a more manageable bottom line. But they also have more financial security than Atlanta organizers because SOCOG is working in conjunction with the state government of New South Wales in a model of public and private partnership preferred by the International Olympic Committee.

Except for about $225 million provided by the federal government to cover some security, transportation and housing costs, Atlanta's Olympics were a private enterprise. ACOG's budget was $1.7 billion, including $550 million for construction. The budget for Sydney's organizing committee is $1.6 billion, but none of that will be spent for construction. The state government has allocated $1.2 billion for that.

"We like to say that the government is building the theater, and we're just putting on the show," SOCOG spokesman Richard Palfreyman said.

Hoping to improve on Atlanta's performance, more than 100 SOCOG representatives were here to learn first-hand about the operation of the Games. Palfreyman said they were impressed with the organization of the competitions but will create a more appealing ambience, uncluttered by corporate logos, vending tents and Ferris wheels that gave downtown Atlanta a carnival look.

"We are keen to keep the overall look of the Games throughout the city," he said.

Unlike Atlanta, the heart of the Games will not be downtown but in a suburb about eight miles west of the center known as Homebush Bay. Formerly the site of a slaughterhouse and a dumping ground for industrial waste, it has been converted into Olympic Park. Thirteen venues will be constructed there, including a 115,000-seat main stadium. Most other venues will be located at Sydney Harbor.

Prominent on the courses of the marathon and triathlon are the Harbor Bridge and Sydney Opera House, landmarks that organizers want 3.5 billion viewers throughout the world to become familiar with before the closing ceremonies.

Audiences might also become more familiar with Australian politics. The IOC Charter requires the head of state to open the Games, but there is a debate in the country about who should have that designation. Because Australia is a member of the Commonwealth, it officially is England's Queen Elizabeth II. But some Australians would like to divorce themselves from the monarchy before 2000 and elect a native-born head of state.

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