Who Counts the Cost of Friendly Games? BUSINESS OF SPORT

Article excerpt

Byline: PETER SHARKEY

As the Winter Olympic Games were drawing to a close, those athletes from the Home Countries involved in the quest for medals were turning their attention Down Under, where the Commonwealth Games get under way in less than a fortnight.

One hopes that they are more successful than our winter Olympians were in Turin.

Melbourne, capital of Australia's state of Victoria, has been in the sports event business for more than 50 years, ever since it hosted the 1956 Olympic Games. It is home to the Australian Open, tennis's first Grand Slam of the year, a Formula One Grand Prix and possesses the marvellous Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The city's swimming facilities are second-to-none and in the Vodafone Arena and Telstra Dome, it has outstanding venues capable of gracing any sport.

The Victoria state government appreciates that rather than become home to a niche event, cities aspiring to succeed on the world stage need to be able to compete for most of them.

To Melbourne's existing 'portfolio' can be added the Australian Football League's Grand Final Week and the Spring Racing Week. Together, these events attract an average of 230,000 visitors to the city, arrivals that account for an estimated economic impact worth pounds 425 million a year, a sum which excludes the intangible value of worldwide exposure the city receives.

This month's Games are expected to provide an economic fillip worth anywhere between pounds 850-pounds 950m. Yet, just as everything appears to be going along serenely during the build-up, opponents of the so-called "Friendly Games' claim they will cost Melbourne a net pounds 470m.

One disgruntled Australian sports commentator told me this week: "The Games are like opera in the United Kingdom: financed by taxpayers for the benefit of a few.

"To date, we've witnessed the destruction of prime public parkland and, like Sydney after its Olympics, we'll be left with expensive facilities which amateur sport bodies cannot afford.

"So the parkland and facilities will be sold off and used for professional sport and other commercial activities following the Games, while amateurs will not get a look in."

Actually, Brian McNeill, a constant thorn in the side of Melbourne's sporting establishment, was initially a tad more forceful in his use of earthy adjectives than those used in the quote above' none of them are repeatable here.

McNeill finds many things about the Games incomprehensible, not least the operating costs of pounds 200m or "the equivalent of pounds 33,000 for each competitor and official."

He is upset, too, that a licensing fee of pounds 21. …