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Wednesday, May 31, 2000
Sydney chief defends restricting main Olympic site

  SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- The head of the Sydney Olympics is defending a decision to deny general access to the site of the games' main venues to international broadcasters who haven't paid multimillion-dollar rights fees.

  Olympics Minister Michael Knight said public safety and the welfare of the games' sponsors were the main reasons to restrict the broadcasters.

  The Olympic Coordination Authority, which is running the games, plans to hold a daily lottery that would allow eight non-rights-holding broadcast outlets into the public areas of Sydney Olympic Park in suburban Homebush, where most of the events will be staged.

  With hundreds of non-rights holders expected to come to Sydney, that plan has drawn criticism -- both by the broadcasters themselves, and some Olympic officials.

  USOC spokesman Mike Moran told Australia's Channel Nine TV Network on Wednesday that non-rights holders, including CNN, ESPN and Fox Sports, might not broadcast from Sydney unless the OCA changed its rules.

  He said the idea of eight passes to be divided among all the non-rights holding organizations outside of Australia "can lead to an ugly mess."

  "If you want bad public relations for the Olympics, go to a lottery like this," Moran told the network.

  NBC holds the U.S. rights as part of a $3.5 billion package that stretches through the games of 2008. Networks in most other major countries have similar, although smaller, rights contracts.

  Knight, who is president of the Sydney 2000 organizing committee, told The Associated Press that TV crews would be restricted to ensure public safety and to satisfy commercial sponsors and existing rights holders.

  He said the Homebush site was unique because it was a massive concentration of venues in one location and all within one secure perimeter fence.

  At most other Olympics, including Atlanta, individual venues such as stadiums were generally considered separate sites, Knight said. Although non-rights holders were barred from filming in the arenas themselves, they generally could mingle with crowds on the streets outside and use the Olympic sites as visual backgrounds for their reports.

  Rights holders, sponsors and the International Olympic Committee agreed the Homebush site should be treated as a single sporting venue, meaning access to rights holders only, Knight added.

  "And they've got a powerful argument because of the nature of the site," he said. "Certainly, in terms of sponsors, we are treating it the same as an Olympic venue -- no non-sponsor is doing anything on that site.

  "On the other hand, the non-rights holding media is saying, 'There are big public areas. Why can't we get in?"'

  Knight said it was too dangerous to allow hundreds of camera crews into the Homebush precinct because pedestrian congestion "would be crazy."

  He said the daily lottery was a compromise reached after negotiations between the IOC, rights holders, Sydney organizers and non-rights holders.

  "The non-rights are saying they're not happy because they want open (access), rights-holders are saying they're not happy because they want them all out," he said.

  "When you reach a compromise, the people who don't get what they want are never happy. My job is to try and strike a balance."

  He said Sydney had created a press center specifically for non-accredited media.

  "I think a lot of American and European broadcasters, non-rights holders, don't really understand either the nature of Olympic Park or what else is happening in Sydney," he said. "There'll be many, many opportunities for non-rights broadcasters in Sydney."

  Moran said he couldn't see any safety concerns, adding that Sydney officials had no right to interfere in media rights issues that could damage the Olympics in the North American market.

  "If these rules don't change and we're forced to stand in line, all these major networks, with all the others, for these eight passes, or go through some sort of lottery, you're going to have a very ugly public relations issue that never needed to happen," he said.

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