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.
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