Stability Wins Games for Sydney Political Unrest Hurt Beijing Bid

Article excerpt

Stability prevailed over political risk Thursday when Sydney edged Beijing for the right to hold the 2000 Summer Olympics.

In selecting Australia's picturesque harbor city of 3.7 million, the International Olympic Committee sent the event Down Under for the first time since the 1956 Melbourne Games.

"I believe it was a sporting choice, not a political choice," said Primo Nebiolo, an IOC member from Italy and head of track's world governing body. "In the end, the members preferred Sydney because it was a candidate which presented no problems and created no criticism."

Beijing, considered the slight favorite, led in three of the four rounds of secret balloting by the 89 IOC voters. But as the competing cities of Istanbul, Turkey; Berlin; and Manchester, England, were eliminated, votes swung to Sydney and enabled it to defeat Beijing 45-43 on the final ballot. One voter did not cast a ballot in the last two rounds.

The decision was announced live to a worldwide TV audience by IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch.

Moments later, fireworks exploded over Sydney Harbor, and an estimated 100,000 people who gathered on the waterfront greeted the dawn with champagne and blaring horns.

In choosing Sydney over Beijing, the IOC went for the safer candidate, a cosmopolitan city with superior sports facilities and technology.

"We know this is the perfect decision," IOC Director General Francois Carrard said. "The Olympic movement is in good hands."

Beijing had offered the powerful symbolic impact of holding the Games of the new millennium in a nation of 1.2 billion people - one-fifth of the world's population - as it opens up to the rest of the world.

But awarding the Games to China would have prompted further outcry from human-rights critics. There also may have been concern over the uncertain political future in China, ruled by 88-year-old Deng Xiaoping.

"If there was a difference in the vote, it was clearly between the risk-takers and the non risk-takers," said Dick Pound, a powerful executive board member from Canada.

"It was easier for them to make this decision than to face the prospect of dealing with a big country like China, its population, its problems," Nebiolo said.

Some members felt that it was too soon for China to get the Games, with 2004 a more realistic target.

"I think Sydney didn't just win it because of the merit of the bid," said Kevan Gosper, an IOC vice president from Australia. "They won it because there might have been people who wanted to go to Beijing, but it was a question of time."

Beijing delegation spokesman Wu Jianmin said his country will consider bidding for 2004. "We are not discouraged, because we Chinese have a tradition: if you succeed, don't be cocky; if you fail, don't be disheartened," he said. "We will keep on participating in the development of the Olympics."

Human-rights officials praised the decision to deny the Games to China. …