The Guardian October 27, 1999


Just to get a ticket it's an Olympic struggle

by Peter Mac

As if drug scandals, site pollution and potential transport chaos weren't 
enough! The Sydney Olympics, billed at first as the "open games", is 
emerging as an event strictly for the favoured few  the rich and the 
privileged.

Earlier this year the Sydney Olympics Games Organising Committee (SOCOG) 
trumpeted its view that "all Australians [would] have an equal opportunity 
to buy tickets".

Some of the tickets were originally allocated as family group bookings to 
former Olympians in recognition of their sporting achievements. As in 
former games, other tickets were also to be set aside for SOCOG members and 
Olympics officials  and of course a large proportion for international 
visitors.

The public were then invited to apply for the remaining tickets, which were 
to be allocated under a ballot system. That's fair, we all said, thinking 
that this would constitute the lion's share of the tickets!

However, it soon became apparent after the results of the ballot were 
announced that very few of those who applied had won tickets.

Under considerable pressure for answers, Olympics Minister Michael Knight 
finally conceded that "some" prime tickets had been allocated to wealthy 
individuals in order to subsidise the cost of tickets for those on average 
incomes.

This week, after a court battle under the NSW Freedom of Information 
legislation, the public were informed that most of the 320,000 people who 
had earlier applied for tickets for the most popular events never had a 
chance of getting them, and that it was always intended to allocate some 
300,000 for sale at exorbitant cost to wealthy individuals and sports 
clubs.

As a result of the balloting and allocation process to date, the Australian 
public now appears to have little chance of seeing the most popular events.

For example, the public were allocated one ticket in 20 for the swimming 
finals, one in 16 for the rhythmic gymnastics finals, one in five for other 
swimming events and the women's 400m track event finals.

NSW ALP Premier Bob Carr has attempted to distance himself from the 
controversy by calling for more tickets to be distributed to the public. 
(He's not the only one running for cover; a number of wealthy individuals 
have rushed to reassure the public that they haven't been offered 
premium tickets!) 

However, Carr has also muddied the debate by observing that the public 
doesn't understand that under Olympic rules tickets have to be allocated to 
officials and sponsors, and that the proceeds of ticket sales have to be 
maximised to avoid the public having to subsidise the games.

Few would question that Games officials and former Olympians should be 
allocated seats.

The Premier's statement about maximising returns in order to avoid slugging 
the taxpayer smacks of public blackmail on behalf of the rich and 
privileged.

In contrast, Dick Pound, Vice-President of the International Olympic 
Committee (IOC), has declared that the IOC would never have approved a plan 
to sell high-priced tickets to the super rich. He and others, such as 
former Olympic swimmer Murray Rose, have described the process as "official 
scalping".

The problems involved in the current approach are reflected in Michael 
Knight's amazing public statements this week about the ticketing issue.

Rather than offer any hope that the public might get a fair share of the 
tickets, with everyone having an equal chance of getting the prime tickets, 
Knight demonstrated his total commitment to the rich retaining their huge 
allocation of guaranteed tickets.

With regard to disclosure of the names of those to get premium tickets, he 
declared: "If people know they are going to be named in the newspapers, ... 
in the parliament ... and in the media, how likely do you think they are to 
line up and purchase those packages?

He also complained bitterly that he was already obliged to disclose too 
much about the organisation of the Games, compared with, say, the 
disclosures required of the head of a large corporation.

But there's the rub! For far too long the Games have been run as a 
commercial enterprise, with the lack of public accountability that 
accompanies private "commercial in confidence" arrangements.

It has been claimed that running the Games as a commercial operation is the 
best way of minimising costs, but it would appear that less has been done 
to actually minimise costs than to convert the Games to a profit-oriented 
event largely for the super rich and the privileged, under the cloak of 
"commercial in confidence" arrangements.

And after all, a huge contributor to the cost is the amount paid to 
officials and consultants for the organisation of the Games.

If the issue of distribution of tickets is anything to go by, the public 
would be infinitely better served in terms of the costs of the Games if the 
current organisers and their political masters were replaced with others 
who have something substantial to offer in terms of both integrity and 
competence.

Back to index page