In 2000 we traveled to Sydney for the Olympics; seeing the games was a childhood dream. When the sun set on the World Cup in 1998 we started planning for the games (to the extent that the first thing I did on arriving at Accenture was request a vacation to go to the games two years later, my manager laughed and signed on the spot!).
We’d been to Sydney five years before and would be traveling with friends; what could be better?
Well….the friends were wonderful as always and even managed to organize an amazing series of places to stay between Melbourne and Sydney. I’ll never forget the night on the farm in the Outback.
However, the games themselves were strangely annoying. Every press article I’ve read about the Sydney games said that they were perfect. I was reminded of this by reading this…
“I’ll stand corrected on the logistics: Sydney did a great job.”
However, the journalists traveled on a separate system from the fans to and from the venues. My memory was of packed trains, crowds of people being shepherded by volunteers shouting into loud speakers and train times being advisory at best. I didn’t mind particularly; but the exemplary logistics talked about in the press seemed to refer to their private car lanes and even a press ferry that went between the city and the main site.
The article that prompted the article above was from the Sydney Morning Herald…
“They were supposed to showcase NSW as the can-do state, as a place where travellers could be welcomed with warmth and joviality and exposed to a breathtaking diversity of destinations. But somewhere, somehow, it went pear-shaped, according to industry leaders.”
So here is how I think that they went wrong…
- They shut the city down. Schools, local government offices and even some businesses all shut for the games. This was to reduce the strain on the transport system. Instead of visiting a vibrant city, we saw a strange sort of ghost town.
- They forgot that they had visitors. At the 1998 World Cup I was given a book which contained a football vocabulary in all the languages of the participants and as a Parisian was given a lapel pin of the languages I spoke in case anyone got lost.In Sydney, there was a public and hostile debate about foreign languages being used in the stadiums. Why invite someone and then not make them feel at home?
- They didn’t Celebrate Humanity. The Olympic Slogan is Celebrate Humanity, we witnessed some amazing moments and the games saw some amazing achievements. Redgrave won gold in a fourth games, David Douillet won a third Judo Heavyweight gold and I cried as Aguida Amaral from East Timor finished the marathon.Were all these events celebrated during the games? No.
Television and even the announcements in the Olympic sites only mentioned Australian athletes. I learn of the judo results on the tf1 web site and Redgrave via the BBC.
- It’s not just for millionaires. The great thing about the games is that anyone can attend; however everything was done for the wealthy (the margins are better there) but not for those of us who learn less than a $1m a year!
- Build to last. Large amounts of the infrastructure improvements were temporary. Circular Quay was covered in scaffolding for the games as they altered it for the increased numbers of people. Yes, a central landmark was covered in steel and cheap wood!!!
The result was that Sydney seemed quiet, obsessed with itself and wealth. In 1995 on our first visit to Sydney I couldn’t wait to return; after 2000 I’m not planning on returning.
I’ve a bet that London will fall into the same trap. They’re already so obsessed with protecting the image that there is no participation, no sharing in the process of hosting the games and a structure in place to manage the news. They’re already obsessed about which British athletes might win; the best in the world are coming to perform; Celebrate Humanity – all of it!
The London games will be declared a massive success before they start (who’ll dare question the British press when they start getting protective and nationalistic?) and then a decade later someone will ask the question why nobody is coming back.