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Last Updated: Monday, 17 May, 2004, 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK
Olympic bid cities going for green
By Mark Kinver
BBC News Online

Sydney's Olympic Stadium
Raising the roof: Praise for Sydney; Athens is happy just to have a roof
After the success of Sydney's "Green Games" in 2000, environmental issues are high on the agenda for the cities hoping to host the 2012 Summer Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will announce on Tuesday which of the nine applicant cities bidding to stage the event will go forward to the final run-off and become "candidate cities".

As Athens continues its race against time to get things ready for this August's global get-together, many environmentalists worry that the benchmark set by Sydney will be allowed to slip dramatically.

The cities in the running to host the 2012 Games can expect all aspects of their bids, including their environmental credentials, to come under close scrutiny from the IOC.

The IOC is a global organisation and it realises that the environment is a global issue
Peter Ottesen, Sydney Olympics
Committee chiefs will be loathed to lose the environmental gains made four years ago.

Homebush example

Peter Ottesen, who was head of environment for the Sydney Organising Committee, feels there is little chance of that happening: "The IOC is a global organisation and it realises that the environment is a global issue.

"Staging a large event has a huge environmental impact. You have to house people, transport them around, build venues, put on shows - all that consumes resources."

Environmental issues for 2012 bid cities to address:
Assessment of current environmental conditions
Details of ongoing environmental projects
Assessment of impact of staging Olympics

Sydney's push to green the Games was widely believed to have been the factor that gave the Australian city the edge over the other cities bidding to host the 2000 event.

"We produced a document as part of our bid called the Green Guidelines," Mr Ottesen told BBC News Online. "It was basically a green blueprint. It went far beyond what the IOC asked from bid cities."

The reclamation of a toxic wasteland on the outskirts of Sydney that became the main site for the Games was viewed as a key environmental success.

"Homebush Bay was an area that had basically lost its community with a history of use and abuse," Mr Ottesen said.

"It was in desperate need for regeneration. The area has now been converted to one that has parkland, a sport centre and residential centres."

Moving stands

Using the massive financial investment a Games brings to an area to fund projects that benefit the local community, as well as providing the infrastructure for the Games, has led to the emergence of the concept of "legacy".

This has not been lost on those hoping to secure the right to stage the Games in 2012, including David Stubbs, head of environment for London's bid team.

"No organisation could expect a city to spend seven years putting an infrastructure together just so we could have a party for two weeks with some sport going on," he said.

A swimming team routine, AP

"The IOC is looking to see that bringing a Games to a city provides some benefits to that city in terms of long-term infrastructure, sporting legacy and, hopefully, an environmental legacy.

"The Olympics are a huge undertaking," he said. "The Summer Games are widely recognised as the largest global peacetime event.

"There has been concern in past years of cities building facilities that have been great showpieces for the Olympics, but which have not had sufficient long-term use after the Games."

There were a number of solutions available to organisers, said Mr Stubbs.

"It could be the dismantling of parts of a stadium and other elements to form a stand at a stadium in another town.

"It could be converting the facility into another use, such as education, business or retail. There is a whole raft of things that can be done, but the key thing is that there is a viable after-use."

Bird of change

When the nine cities bidding to host the 2012 Games submitted their "mini-bid books" to the IOC in January, an assessment of the environmental impact of hosting the Games was one of the compulsory themes.

The hopefuls - Istanbul, Leipzig, London, Madrid, Moscow, New York, Paris and Rio de Janeiro - all seemingly embraced the concept of "legacy". (Havana are also bidding, but declined to forward a copy of their mini-bid book to us).

Olympic rings and flame, AFP
Maybe we do need the Olympics as one of our circuses
David Chernushenko
All have selected brownfield sites for their Olympic Village, with the exception of Moscow, which plans to locate the Village in "a prestigious district of north-west Moscow".

As for transport, most of the cities highlighted the close proximity of their venues, thus scoring a double whammy: less congestion and shorter journeys mean fewer emissions and better air quality.

Although Sydney is often portrayed as the city that made the Olympics green, the clock has to be turned back to 1976 to find the first example of eco-activism affecting the IOC.

Denver, Colorado, declined to host that year's Winter Olympics after residents feared the planned development would damage the environment.

Green homework

The first attempt to be green by Olympic organisers was at the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway, according to David Chernushenko, President of Green & Gold, a sustainable sports consultancy.

"One particular issue was over a wetlands (area) where the construction of a speed-skating oval was being partially built on a protected bird migratory route.

"When the IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, encountered protesters he raised the question with the organisers and asked whether something could be done about it."

The outcome? A partial success for the protesters. The venue was not built in the most sensitive part of the site; it was constructed next to it.

But the president's encounter with the campaigners had an effect. Mr Samaranch later went on to declare that the environment was "the third dimension of Olympism, the first and second being sport and culture."

What if the Olympics was a new idea that was trying to get off the ground today? Surely, it would be a hard sell to get the green light.

Mr Chernushenko, also a member of the IOC's Sport and Environment Commission, begs to differ: "Philosophically, you can say we need our circuses and maybe we do need the Olympics as one of our circuses.

"Is life worth living if the only thing we ever do is a lifecycle analysis or environmental audit?"

So, on 6 July, 2005, the IOC President Jacques Rogge will announce which city has been selected to host the 2012 Summer Games.

Who knows? The circus may be coming to a town near you - if it has done its environmental homework.

2012 hopefuls' green bids
17 May 04  |  Science/Nature
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29 Apr 04  |  Europe
Olympics projects face new delay
31 Mar 04  |  Europe
Winter Olympics 'face climate risk'
19 Feb 02  |  Science/Nature
Country profile: Greece
10 Mar 04  |  Country profiles

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