Sydney Takes a Gold In Dash for Olympics

Hosting the 2000 Games boosts Australia's pride and bid to become a republic

EVERY night since the announcement that Sydney won the right to host the Olympics in the year 2000, Australians have shot off fireworks, held concerts, and danced.

People are celebrating for good reasons.

Hosting the Olympics of the millennium means 156,000 new jobs and $7.3 billion in revenues (Australian; US$4.74 billion), according to government estimates. Besides benefits to the construction, tourism, and retail industries, winning the Olympics has increased Australian's national pride and given them a new sense of optimism.

``This is going to be the spark that lifts us out of the new recession. We showed through this bid that we're capable of uniting as a country,'' New South Wales Premier John Fahey said shortly after the news was announced. ``That's going to put Australia ahead right through the 2000 Games and beyond.''

Early Friday morning in Australia, the International Olympic Committee announced from Monaco that Sydney had beat its main competitor, Beijing, to hold the Games.

Sydney's win has been called a victory for sports over politics. Many here were worried that international business interest in opening up Chinese markets would win out.

More than any other bid, Sydney's was tailored for the athletes, who for the first time will all be housed together in one site in Homebush, just a short ride from the city center. The site will also contain most of the venues for the events.

For the next seven years, the emphasis here will be on sports.

``Just about everyone I know will be training for something so we can compete,'' says Sydney student Jay Symone, 11. ``There'd be nothing better than winning a medal in Sydney with your family and friends there.''

But the children aren't the only ones who started laying plans for the future this weekend. Businesses are looking at how to cash in on the 2000 Olympics, the largest commercial venture in Australia's history. Everyone will be trying to get a piece of the government's announced $1.6 billion construction program, which covers 33 different projects, ranging from a third airport runway to an 80,000-seat stadium at Homebush.

New South Wales Tourism Minister Virginia Chadwick estimates the tourism industry will reap the lion's share of revenue from the Olympics - 90,000 new jobs and $4.6 billion. ``The tourism benefits of our Olympic win will flow to virtually every sector of the business community, from manufacturing, retail, restaurants, hairdressers, and taxi companies, to finance and construction,'' she says.

Sydney planners want the 2000 Olympics to bring a marriage of sports and the arts. Their four-year game plan states that in 1997, the focus will be on the arts and crafts of indigenous people, the Aborigines; in 1998, the theme will be ``A Sea of Change,'' the impact of the arrival of immigrants here in making Australia a multicultural society; and by 1999, Australia's artists and performers will be touring the world.

Perhaps more importantly, the 2000 Games will give impetus to resolve a number of issues surrounding the nation's identity.

The decision puts pressure on the country to settle a controversy over Aborigine land ownership, a question that has become increasingly contentious in the last few months. With the eyes of the world on Australia, politicians must come to terms with the Aborigine claims or face embarrassing protests.

Others, including Prime Minister Paul Keating, think public opinion will swing in favor of Australia becoming a republic rather than a Commonwealth of Great Britain. Mr. Keating said over the weekend that he does not want Queen Elizabeth to open the ceremonies.

The committee's choice, Keating said, ``is a decision about Australia as a nation. I think it is a definite decision. It allows us to show we are not some derived place, but a country of the brink of the millennium.''

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