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Monday, April 17, 2000
IOC plays down Olympic troubles

 LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP-CP) -- Don't believe all that bad news coming out of Sydney as the Olympics approach -- it's all media hype and political grandstanding.
 That's the message from International Olympic Committee vice-president Dick Pound of Montrreal on the eve of a review of Sydney's preparations for the games.
 With less than five months before the opening ceremony, Sydney appears mired in trouble -- from ticketing controversies to labour disputes to budget problems to threats of violent protests by Aboriginals.
 These issues and others will be addressed today when organizers make their latest progress report to the IOC executive board.
 Pound said there's nothing to be worked up about.
 "Reading the local media and listening to local politicians -- assuming you have the stomach or patience for either -- you might be forgiven for thinking we have serious problems, that sponsors are pulling out, that the organizing committee is in disarray, that we are facing serious financial problems," Pound said.
 "Nothing could be further from the truth. We are set for one of the most spectacular Olympic Games we have ever seen. The Sydney organizers are further ahead, and have a better handle on the issues than any previous Olympic organizing committee."
 Speaking at a conference in London, Pound said Sydney's problems have been exaggerated.
 "The Australian public's passion for sport, plus the fact that there are four competing daily newspapers in Sydney, have put the organizing committee under the spotlight, and in the tender hands of the local media on a daily, if not hourly, basis.
 "This is a spotlight that no company in the world could endure, where every single issue is analyzed, not always objectively nor even knowledgeably, under the microscope and dissected."
 Pound's comments mark a big change from his pronouncements at the last IOC board meeting in Sydney two months ago. Then, Pound assailed Sydney organizers for having a "dysfunctional relationship" with sponsors, treating sponsorship dollars as a "milk cow" and setting wildly unrealistic marketing revenue targets.
 Sydney organizing chief Michael Knight accused Pound of trying to boost his chances of succeeding Juan Antonio Samaranch as IOC president next year. The next day, the two men exchanged kisses on the cheek in a symbolic gesture of reconciliation.
 Since then, reports of Sydney's troubles have only continued:
 --Protesters have promised to block bulldozers when construction of the beach volleyball venue starts next month at the famous Bondi Beach.
 --The rowing and canoeing venue at Penrith has been plagued by floating weeds.
 --Sydney's train and bus drivers have threatened to strike during the games.
 --International non-rights-holding broadcasters have protested plans by organizers to ban them from Homebush, the site of most venues.
 --Organizers were forced to drop plans to make Visa credit cards the only form of payment in the next round of ticket sales.
 But the biggest worry is the threat of violent protests by Aboriginal activists during the Sept. 15-Oct. 1 games.
 The warnings followed the leak of a government report stating that accounts of the estimated 100,000 Aboriginal children taken from their families -- the "stolen generation" -- were exaggerated.
 "If you want to see burning cars and burning buildings, then come over," activist Charles Perkins said. "It's 'burn, baby, burn' from now on."
 The IOC will address several other matters during its three-day meeting:
 --The IOC might consider East Timor's request to participate in the Sydney Games. The former Indonesian province, which voted for independence last year and is under U.N. administration, does not fulfill the criteria for Olympic recognition. But some would like to find a way for East Timor to be represented in some way.
 --The IOC probably will move forward by two weeks the dates of the 2004 Athens Games -- from August to July -- to avoid conflicts with European soccer.
 --The IOC will review the new world anti-doping agency, including plans to conduct 2,500 out-of-competition drug tests before the Sydney Games, and assess research into a reliable test for the banned hormone EPO.
 --Organizers of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City will report to the IOC board by video conference Wednesday.
 --The IOC board will meet with leaders of the Olympic winter and summer sports federations. The 27 summer sports are expected to decide how they will divide more than $100 million in TV revenues from the Sydney Games.
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