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Wednesday, July 19, 2000
African nations in scramble to book flights

 LONDON (AP) -- Several African countries neglected to book flights to Sydney for their Olympic teams, prompting Australian and international officials to intervene to make sure the athletes get to the Games.

 Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee executive who oversees preparations for the Sydney Games, said Wednesday that about half a dozen African nations had failed to make flight reservations.

 "We are pursuing the national Olympic committees to make the necessary arrangements and we're working with them to find a solution," he said. "It's not an emergency situation. Nobody will miss the Games."

 The Sydney Olympics run from Sept. 15 to Oct. 1.

 Rogge said Sandy Hollway, chief executive of the Sydney organizing committee was meeting with African Olympic officials in Cameroon to resolve the impasse.

 The IOC sports department in Lausanne, Switzerland, was also working with the Africans to try to secure seats on Sydney flights, he said.

 "What's probably going to happen is that not all the teams will be able to travel together as originally planned," Rogge said in a telephone interview from Belgium. "There will be enough seats to transport the athletes, but not necessarily in whole groups. They will have to travel in different groups."

 Rogge confirmed that Nigeria -- which has Africa's biggest Olympic contingent -- was one of the countries involved, but said he wasn't aware of the others.

 Rogge denied an Australian newspaper report that 20 countries were affected, putting the figure at "more or less" half a dozen.

 The newspaper the Australian identified Sierra Leone, the Central African Republic, the Congo and Namibia as being among the countries.

 Under the contract for the Sydney Games, the Sydney organizing committee is committed to pay for the roundtrip travel of all Olympic teams, based on economy, apex-fare tickets.

 "The NOCs had the responsibility to book the flights," Rogge said. "If you have just five or six athletes, it's not an issue. But if it's a team of 700-800 athletes, and you to go to an airline company, they will not liberate 800 seats."

 By waiting so late, the air fares will now be more expensive. Rogge said the African countries will have to bear the brunt of the extra cost.
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