Melbourne Seeks Second Olympics 40 Years On
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) _ The only city south of the equator to host the Olympic Games wants them again.
Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, held the Summer Games in 1956 and it is waiting along with Toronto, Athens, Atlanta, Belgrade and Manchester for the Sept. 18 announcement by the International Olympic Committee.
The city is festooned with flags and banners proclaiming ″We’re supporting Melbourne 1996.″ Building sites are decorated with Olympic emblems.
John Ralph, president of the Melbourne Olympic Candidature, says the mood in the capital of Victoria state is one of quiet optimism.
″We have as good a chance as any of the others,″ he said. ″You can’t say how good our chances are because it is difficult to look into the minds of the 89 different people who are going to vote.″
Ralph will head a team of 70 delegates to Tokyo a week before the decision is made. It is widely rumored, although not confirmed, that Prime Minister Bob Hawke and golfer Greg Norman will be among those presenting Melbourne’s case.
Melbourne officials point out that 11 of the 13 venues already are in place. Still to be built are a multi-sports complex at downtown Albert Park, a velodrome and the athletes’ village.
All but three of the venues are within 4 miles of the city center.
The tyranny of distance is one of Melbourne’s largest problems. The Melbourne Organizing Committee has put together a $40 million travel subsidy package that would enable up to 100 members of each national team to travel Down Under for $350 dollars each, including accomodation.
″Distance is perceived as a problem, but it makes it a more interesting destination for athletes. It is an adventure destination,″ said MOC director of communications Jean Walsh. ″The time difference also means events could be beamed live into the United States at prime television times.″
Melbourne is 16 hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast.
Organizers stress that Melbourne’s population includes residents from over 140 countries. They also point out Australia’s reputation as one of the safest nations on earth, the lack of terrorism and urban crime, and the presence of a modern public transport.
In addition, they note that Australia is one of only a handful of nations to have attended every modern Games.
That is not to say there are not problems.
One image problem is posed by the recent resignation of Victorian state premier John Cain.
His Labor government was partially blamed for several financial problems to hit the state this year.
Bread Not Circuses, a small group which has borrowed its name and platform from an anti-Olympic group in Toronto, has protested the likelihood of increased rents in low-income suburbs.
″We say there is more to creating a sustainable city than big extravaganzas, ″ said Andrew Maher, the group’s spokesman. ″Unless the government does something to show it is serious about addressing social justice issues, there should be no Games.″
Aboriginal groups originally protested a lack of involvement but their criticism has been muted by the appointment by the MOC of an Aboriginal consultant, Alan Brown.
Ralph says there is huge enthusiasm in a city noted for its love of watching sporting events - any sporting event.
″I’ve never been involved in anything where there has been such a positive response, where people were so prepared to jump in and do things,″ he said.
A recent study predicts the Games in Melbourne would result in a $1.95 billion boost for Australian tourism during the next decade. The study, by the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research, found an extra 1.3 million tourists would visit the country.
Supporters of the Olympic bid also point to the improved sporting infrastructure and facilities that would result.
″People who say we can’t afford the Games don’t understand the economics of it,″ said Ralph. ″I would put it the other way around: Can we afford not to have them?″
Kevan Gosper, one of two Australians on the International Olympic Commitee, believes Melbourne has a good chance of being selected.
″This is regarded throughout the whole Olympic world as being one of the best organized of Olympic candidatures,″ he said. ″Melbourne is well- organized, well-informed and ready to listen.
″I told the Melbourne team right from the outset I thought Melbourne could win. I am even more convinced now.″