SEARCH 2000 Games

Wednesday, June 7, 2000
A look at issues that have troubled Olympics

 SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- Issues that have plagued preparations for the Sept. 15-Oct. 1 Sydney Olympics:

 LABOR UNREST: Strikes have been threatened during the Olympics by some employees, including transport, police and nurses. Bus and rail workers have refused to work overtime unless the government agreed to an Olympic bonus of $172 per week. Negotiations are still under way with 8,000 Public Service Association members, including police and nurses, for an hourly pay increase of $1.72 to compensate workers for additional workload.

 PUBLIC TRANSPORT: There will be an estimated 32 million rail passenger trips in the 17 days of the Olympics on a system that usually carries 12 million people over 21 days.

 ABORIGINAL ISSUES: Aboriginal activists are expected to protest during the Olympics to publicize the plight of Australia's estimated 360,000 indigenous population. Although one has threatened violent actions, Sydney's senior Aboriginal representative, Jenny Munro, pledges the city will be calm and the Olympic schedule won't be disrupted. Australia's original inhabitants are the country's most disadvantaged minority, with the poorest health and education, and highest rates of alcoholism, infant mortality and imprisonment.

 ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES: Organizers promised a "Green Games," but the environmental watchdog Greenpeace has criticized the planned use of refrigerators with hydroflourocarbons, or HFCs. Greenpeace says Olympics sponsor Coca-Cola will have 1,700 refrigerators using HFCs in Sydney and only 100 coolers that comply with the "Green Games" guidelines. Coca-Cola says the cooling equipment to be used at Olympic sites was a "significant advance" in energy efficiency and that commercial drink coolers using alternative refrigerants are not commercially available on a scale required for the Olympics.

 CONSTRUCTION: The construction of a 10,000-seat beach volleyball stadium at Sydney's popular Bondi Beach has continued to draw complaints from residents, who say it will cause environmental damage. Public access to the beach was restricted when a high tide flowed into the perimeter of the construction site.

 A 12,500-seat extension at the swimming and diving venue was finished last month. The project was plagued by strikes because of worker concern over safety and the capacity of steel girders to support the weight of the stand. Engineers gave the extension the OK, pushing the temporary capacity of the venue to more than 17,000. Organizers are installing video screens in the upper deck for fans in the back rows to better see the pool.

 NEW LAWS: Laws imposing heavy fines for illegal parking and non-sanctioned advertising in the Olympic area were criticized by civil libertarians as "draconian." Motorists driving in the wrong lane faced fines of up to $1,340; anyone caught breaching airspace regulations with unauthorized advertisements could be fined up to $152,500. Organizers tried to ban ticketholders from bringing in their own sandwiches, snacks and bottled water -- and thus buy food only from Olympic sponsors -- but they soon backed down after the rules were criticized as a "commercial ripoff" by the national consumer protection agency. Coolers remain on the banned list.

 TICKETS: First, organizers blundered when tickets for top seats were secretly syphoned off for corporate high-rollers. Then, there were several months of delays in giving back refunds to those who failed to get the tickets they wanted. The latest turmoil surfaced when special souvenir tickets were found to be too big to fit in stadium turnstiles. Good news emerged last month: Organizers released for sale more than 3.2 million tickets, across all sessions of all sports.

 ACCOMMODATIONS: Hotel rooms for visitors are still available at prices comparable to those for other Olympics. The Australian Hotels Association says rumors of price-gouging were not true. A program for staying in the houses of Sydney residents still has hundreds of homes available through Ray White Real Estate. The average Sydney home would cost $1,430 per week. In a private deal, the most expensive reported rent in Sydney for the games was about $420,000 for four weeks in a new Balmain unit.

 The Traveland Olympic accommodation program still has one-third of its beds available in a wide range of options. Manager David Farrar says bookings have surged in the past three weeks and doesn't expect anything to be available after July.

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