ATLANTA — Spectators and athletes have barely left with their memories and medals, and already the Atlanta Olympics have become a case study on how the world's largest sporting event may evolve in the future.
Organizers, historians, and others are analyzing Atlanta's Games for what lessons they provide for Sydney in 2000, Salt Lake City in 2002, and other cities that are casting their bids for the next century.
What they've learned will likely affect everything from transportation and security to the size of the Games and how they are paid for.
"The Atlanta Games was a classroom for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), a learning experience of what to do right and what not to do," says John Lucas, professor emeritus of sport science at Pennsylvania State University in State College.
A regular carnival
Perhaps the subject that is getting the most attention is commercialization. Because the United States funnels no direct government funding to Games held on its soil, Atlanta's organizers - like those in Los Angeles in 1984 - were forced to rely on corporate sponsors to underwrite the $1.7 billion Olympic bill. While it now appears that the Atlanta Games will finish with a profit, many feel that the commercialism here went too far, giving the city a carnival-like atmosphere. As a result, the IOC has already stated it wants future Games to be partially financed by the public.
The size of the Olympics is also an issue of debate. Atlanta hosted the largest Games ever, selling 9 million tickets, inviting 197 countries, and including almost 11,000 athletes. The numbers strained this Southern metropolis of 3.5 million and raised questions as to how large the Olympics should become.
"The IOC is concerned about this growth and has been since the 1950s," says Robert Barney, director of the Centre for Olympic Studies at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario.
"Maybe the Olympics has to get how our libraries get - you want a new journal you cancel one; you want a new sport you cancel one. But I also know the politics of international sports federations. They wield a heavy hand" in fighting for expansion and inclusion of sports, making it difficult to reduce them, he says.
Atlanta illustrates how cities should and should not organize, some experts say. "The Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games was made up of intelligent, hard-working, well-meaning people, but they were amateurs who learned on the job," Mr. Lucas says.
"Amateurs are no longer acceptable. There has to be a way for the IOC to hire a cadre of top-notch, highly paid professionals whose only job it is to help organizing cities for the winter and summer Games...," he says. "They would outline what they have learned in the past 25 years about security, transportation, venues, telecommunications. I see that happening in the foreseeable future."
Almost all cities that have hosted the summer Olympics since 1972 have provided lessons on how to stage the Games, says Mr. Barney of the Centre for Olympic Studies. "Munich provided a big lesson that security had to be enhanced; Montreal that to approach commercial sponsorship is not to get an army of sponsors and charge them a nickel; Los Angeles the reverse - that you give a few sponsors exclusivity and charge them a big bundle."
Sydney for its part is taking notes. When the summer Games open Down Under in four years, the city has pledged it won't be as commercial, in part, because the Australian government is backing much of the cost. And though it is a larger city, it will entertain fewer spectators - 5.5 million tickets will go on sale, down from 11.2 million here. Security is also likely to be a top priority, especially since the bombing at Centennial Park.
Sydney and other aspiring host cities can also learn from the more positive aspects of the Atlanta Games. The venues were attractive and well-run by top professionals in the sports they were overseeing, Lucas says. And many acknowledge it will be hard to top the city's Southern hospitality. "The volunteers were far and away the best," says Lucas, who has attended the Olympics for several decades. "It is a form of outpouring of the community, and it was never done better than in Atlanta."
A flood of athletes
Atlanta also set attendance and participation records for sports, especially for women's competition. Some 3,779 female athletes participated in the Centennial Games, up 40 percent from the Barcelona Games in '92. That's a trend that is likely to continue, says Anita DeFrantz, a member of the executive board of the IOC.
In the long term, however, Atlanta's operation of the Games will take a while to review, Ms. DeFrantz says. "We'll utilize suggestions, look at good things, and analyze how things that went wrong went wrong," she says.
But Lucas contends that any changes the IOC does institute will be gradual. "Major changes in a big hurry are probably not good for the Olympic movement," he says. "But I think if nothing is done in 20 years, the Games will collapse from their own weight."