SYDNEY -- It's early innings yet, but there may never be a better Olympics than
the Sydney Summer Games.
The home team is excelling. The facilities, almost all of which are new,
are superb. Crowds have never been bigger. Sales of Olympic junk have never
been better. The television ratings across the country have shattered every
record by millions of viewers.
After some initial hiccups, the much maligned transport system is
performing well beyond expectations. In the five days since the stupendous
Opening Ceremonies there have only been two traffic jams reported in normally
traffic-choked Sydney. One tie-up occurred in a distant suburb. The other
happened as 100,000 people all tried to leave Olympic Park at exactly the same
time on opening night.
Protests by Aborigine activists and anarchists who style themselves as
environmentalists have fizzled. Threatened walkouts by bus drivers never
materialized. Often ornery trade unionists are behaving like lambs.
Thanks to the mass withdrawal of some Chinese drug cheats, there have
thankfully been few drug scandals so far. In weightlifting a Romanian and a
Norwegian were given the boot, a Ukrainian shotputter was banned for steroid
use as was a member of Kenya's 1,600-metre relay team.
There has not been a cloud in the skies for days and the weather has turned
much warmer, so the thin-skinned Canadian hacks in the media village no longer
have anything to gripe about. The Australian dollar has even chosen this
moment to crash, making the capital of New South Wales a little more
reasonable for foreign visitors who have been subjected to the usual Olympic
Even the taxi drivers, who thought they were being cut out of the lucre by
the free Olympic rail system, are fairly happy. Their business is booming and
the many Yanks in town actually tip, unlike Australian clientele.
More than 20,000 cops, security guards and soldiers are on duty. But the
crooks are evidently as enthralled by the Olympics as their law-abiding
compatriots. The crime rate is at the lowest level in decades, so those who
enforce the law don't have much to do except work on their tans and break up
the occasional fight between drunken Australian revellers at the half-dozen
places in town where thousands of people without tickets gather to watch
Olympic events on big screen TVs.
The only ugliness I have seen didn't involve any Australians. At a field
hockey game in which Pakistan throttled Britain 8-1, a group of several dozen
Pakistani fans celebrated their team's success by chanting "God is great," in
Arabic. A few British spectators who apparently got lost on their way to a
soccer match after refreshing themselves from all the main food groups
responded to the chant by loudly shouting a two-syllable racial slur
occasionally heard in English playgrounds. The Pakistanis defused the
situation by laughing off the insult, much to the relief of the lone police
officer who monitored the potential riot.
A chum of mine who is a senior editor at one of the local newspapers said
Sydney 2000 was running so smoothly it was becoming an embarrassment. There
was almost nothing bad to report and the jingoistic hyping of Australian
athletes was getting a bit tiresome.
There was a brief flurry because a fellow who prints up accreditation had
made himself souvenir copies of the identity cards of eight Australian
athletes, including Ian Thorpe, the swimming sensation. What he didn't know
was that by doing so he automatically invalidated the computer codes in those
athletes' ID cards so they couldn't get into the athletes' village. Charges
However, Australia's luck and journalists' fortunes may be changing. The
biggest hard news story of the Games was the brief kidnapping yesterday of two
Korean officials by a pair of spirited young lads who had just escaped over a
barbed wire fence from a minimum security jail.
There are clouds on Sydney's horizon. A pair of distant puffs in the sky
were caused by bush fires that have suddenly sprung up because of the
unseasonably warm, dry spring weather. So a brief spot of rotten weather would
actually be very welcome. Just in the nick of time a cold front from
Antarctica that has been promised for several days may actually come ashore,
bringing with it a little rain.
Not to worry. At this point, one third of the way through the Sydney Games,
it would take a hurricane to break the spell the Lucky Country has cast over