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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 August, 2004, 08:06 GMT 09:06 UK
Did the Sydney Olympics pay off?
By Christian Mahne
in Sydney

Olympic Boulevard in Sydney
At times the Olympic village resembles a ghost town
Greece has spent billions of euro on staging the 28th Olympiad of modern times. But looking at Sydney's experience four years ago, can the investment ever pay off?

Four years ago all the action was in Sydney. The crowds came, the world watched and the jewel by the Southern Ocean sparkled.

It was to be the city's modern renaissance, the start of a golden age of enhanced sport and tourism driven by millions of extra visitors a year - potentially worth $4.5bn.

So, four years on, has the Olympic legacy delivered?

It took Australia six years and nearly $2bn to get from Juan Antonio Samaranch's pronouncement that the winner was "Syd-en-ey" to the opening ceremony.

A million spectators flocked to witness the two week sporting extravaganza and then the questions started to be asked - who needs all these facilities?

Olympic ghost town?

If Australia had tumbleweed, it would be blowing down Olympic Boulevard right now.

Sydney Olympic Park, the most visible reminder of sporting glories of four years ago is now the world's case study in how to survive after the circus has left town.

construction in Sydney Olympic Park
Sydney hopes to attract people to live in the Olympic park

All in all, it's been quite a challenge. Accused of being an expensive white elephant, the pressure's been on to re-energise the site.

The slick marketing video put out by the Sydney Olympic Park Authority promises a transformation "on a scale unprecedented in Olympic history".

The enormous site is to become home to at least 15,000 residents and a workforce of more than 20,000 people.

The problem is this venue is just too big to be sustained by sport alone.

The grand plan is to create what the marketeers are calling a "living precinct".

Bringing 'life to the place'

In the next 15 years Olympic park will change from a showcase for athletes to a desirable residential address, promises Sydney Olympic Park's chief executive Brian Newman.

Tourists posing on the victor's podium
Occasional groups of tourists just fail to fill a stadium built for 80,000

"We needed to address that monumental nature and I guess create a place that is a little more people friendly and has a hierarchy of public spaces, more in keeping with a traditional urban centre.

"A lot of the buildings here at Sydney Olympic park are very introverted," says Mr Newman. "You could have 100,000 people in one or two stadiums and not realise there was anyone in the precinct.

"So we need to externalise those buildings, bring them to the street, bring life to the place," says the man in charge of the redevelopment.

And that means building - lots more building.

Houses and flats have already gone up, turning accommodation built for Olympians into suburbs designed for commuters.

Hit by terror and health fears

But progress is slow and at the moment the majority of weekday visitors through the stadium gates are tour groups.

kangaroos in the sun set
Australia's tourism industry has to fall back on traditional tourist attractions

Visitors have the chance to create some Olympic memories of their own with a photograph on the winner's podium. But the grasp of the games has weakened.

Like other parts of the world, Australia's tourism suffered from external factors out of its control.

September 11 and the Sars virus robbed the city of its chance to capitalise on the Olympics.

Visitor numbers dropped by 25% in the two years following the games, the exact opposite of what the planners like the Tourism and Transport Forum's Christopher Brown had been expecting.

"I think the difficulty we had was tooling up to meet the Olympic opportunity," says Mr Brown.

"Lots of new hotels were built, particularly in Sydney. So you had a massive build up in capacity just as a series of non-Olympic factors led to a massive reduction in demand, which gave us oversupply and a raft of problems in the industry."

The economic 'long game'

Marketing chiefs know they can't rely on the Olympic flame forever.

The latest campaigns from Tourism Australia are returning to more traditional means of selling the country.

After the flurry of four years ago, Australia is marketing itself on what it does best.

Telstra stadium in Sydney Olympic Park
Sydney's Olympic Park claims 5.5 million visitors annually

Big rocks, wide beaches and for those who know their cricket - Richie Benaud.

So, were the Olympics all worth it?

In the end, it's all about managing expectations.

The games give a massive kick start to any city that hosts them.

But the real skill is in playing the long game long after the sporting community has departed.

In Sydney, they say it's still a work in progress.

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