- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2000

SYDNEY, Australia Money paved the road that brought the Olympics to Sydney.
The road has produced one very bumpy ride since the city was awarded the games: cost overruns, corruption charges, violence, internal squabbling and fear.
International Olympic Committee officials did not expect seven years ago to grant Sydney the 2000 Games, which open today. Beijing was the favorite.
But Sydney organizers won the games the same way Salt Lake City landed the 2002 Winter Games and Salt Lake officials landed in deep trouble: through percs and free trips. Sydney organizers paid for 170 trips to Australia to wine and dine 65 IOC members.
The Sydney organizers, unlike those in Salt Lake City, left no paper trail. That did not prevent scandal from erupting in the Australian media, which reported that payoffs were made by private individuals and corporations who left no record of the most of the deals.
Once Sydney got the games, more trouble followed. The cost of hosting the Olympics skyrocketed more than $100 million over budget, and anticipated revenue from increased tourism from the games has not yet materialized.
There's more. Sydney still seethes because organizers funneled premium tickets to corporate sponsors and IOC officials. A backlash left more than 2.1 million tickets unsold and forced organizers to fund a massive advertising campaign last month, begging Australians to purchase seats.
Even today, as the games officially open, officials face disaster with the highly touted transportation system. Hundreds of bus drivers are threatening to walk off the job because of poor working conditions.
If they do so, they will join the chief executive of the Sydney organizing committee in the jobless ranks. Sandy Holloway lost his job two weeks ago in a restructuring of the committee staff, sending the organization into confusion just weeks before the games.
The internal politics grew so openly hostile in Sydney that Australian Prime Minister John Howard and New South Wales state Premier Bob Carr each made a public plea to organizing officials to stop bickering.
"The time for any political point scoring on matters related to the Olympic games is over," Howard said in a statement.
Still, IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch declares himself pleased with the preparations for the games.
"The Olympic Games is a very complicated event and you can only be happy and relieved when the games are closed," he said. "I have no fears about the preparations for Sydney."
Sydney, though, apparently has some fears about the IOC. The Australian government banned two IOC officials with criminal links from entering the country, which brought a protest from Mr. Samaranch.
That was followed by the revelation that Mr. Samaranch tried to get another IOC official, in jail in Indonesia on fraud charges, released from prison so he could attend the games.
Along the way, there have been small embarrassments and snafus that have added to the perception that the games will be stuck in controversy:
Transportation. Some bus drivers are threatening to quit, and some volunteer drivers proved unfamiliar with Sydney streets and even with how to drive a bus. The rail system suffered numerous accidents and breakdowns from commuter traffic alone in the past year. A new transportation chief declared the problems to be of a "longer-term nature" and said they won't be fixed for the games.
Sharks. There are fears that when triathlon competitors hit the water they will find sharks coming after them. As a result, there will be a group of shark watchers with repellent equipment. A marine biologist known as "Shark Man" threatened to cut down shark nets placed around the bay in protest of use of the nets.
Drag queens. It was revealed last month that drag queens will be part of the closing ceremonies, which drew outrage from many people here.
Medals. The medals themselves caused a controversy. The medals show a Roman coliseum instead of an amphitheater in Greece, where the games originated. A Greek-language newspaper here ran a story criticizing the medals and the Sydney committee under the headline "The Ultimate Ignorance."
The torch. IOC Vice President Kevan Gosper received severe criticism for arranging to have his 12-year-old daughter be the first Australian to run with the Olympic torch in Greece, bumping the young Greek-Australian girl originally picked for the honor. One torch bearer was burned by a gas leak, another died after carrying the torch, protesters attempted to extinguish the torch and others tried to kidnap it.
Security. The Australians undertook extreme security measures for these games, but a mock anti-terrorism attack in May by a defense force team resulted in nearly $50,000 in damage to Olympic facilities.
Protests. Aborigines threatened to disrupt the games, and Australia has been embarrassed by stories around the world about the people and their plight.
Officials hope a smooth Olympics over the next two weeks will erase the problems and scandals. But there is always controversy in the athletic arena as well as outside of it.
At the Oceania Olympic Trials in Australia in May, a Samoan boxer beat up several boxing officials, including the 78-year-old president of the Oceania boxing organization.
Perhaps that was an omen of things to come.

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