On track to Olympic debt
"The cheque's in the mail" is the familiar refrain of debtors playing for time. Last year the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) sang that very tune, claiming they'd sent cheques to compensate over 9,000 people who had paid for tickets which were already sold (at inflated prices to business interests and wealthy individuals). When the people complained that they hadn't received their cheques, SOCOG blamed the delay on Australia Post. Last week the Olympic body was forced to admit that the delay was not caused by a mail system fault at all: the cheques were never printed. With each revelation and backslide the slogan, "The People's Games", looks increasingly irrelevant. Take, for example, the 1.5 million tickets under $20 which SOCOG alleged it had set aside for schools and the disadvantaged. That amount has now been reduced to 735,000. No one should be surprised, either, that taxpayers are being set up to foot the bill for a $180 million Games budget shortfall. SOCOG was due to return $30 million to NSW but this will now go to prop up its collapsing economic structure. SOCOG is also looking to cut around $100 million from its operating budget. This will mean job cuts: not, of course, the fat cats driving the gravy train. In addition the International and Australian Olympic Committees will each pass up $11.6 million of their profit share, while the possibility has been floated that the Carr Government will forego part of the $406 million it is to receive from SOCOG for venue rental. Most of the Olympic venues are owned by the government i.e. paid for by the people of NSW. It is anybody's guess as to the size of the outstanding debt we'll have to pay off at the end of September. There is, finally, the little matter of the government supplying SOCOG with the cheapest of labour. NSW public servants will be offered four months paid leave — no strings attached — to work for SOCOG in the lead up to, and during, the Games.