Sydney: City of Gold

By Suter, Keith | Contemporary Review, September 2000 | Go to article overview

Sydney: City of Gold


Suter, Keith, Contemporary Review


THIS month Sydney is hosting the largest peacetime event in world history - the Olympic Games. There are nine million ticket holders and a global television audience of well over two billion people. But opinions in Sydney are divided over whether hosting the Games is really such a good idea. Australians love sport but they are sick of all the surrounding corruption and hype, and some are concerned about the economic and social impact of the Games.

Olympic Myths

The Olympics have always had a mythical element. The original Olympics ran for over a thousand years in ancient Greece. Every four years the games brought together as many as 40,000 spectators, athletes, politicians, cultural figures and merchants. They were a form of worship to honour Zeus and other gods. The merchants also made them a form of trade fair and so there was a financial element even in the original games. The original games were the largest single gathering of Greeks in the ancient world.

These games were not international. Instead, Greek city-states competed only with each other. The Greeks regarded the rest of the world as 'barbarians' and so had no interest in their involvement. Second, there is some debate as to whether all Greek wars stopped during the games. The myth is that all the Greeks stopped their fighting in the higher interests of playing against each other on the field. But it is not clear whether this always happened; the Greeks seem to have maintained some conflicts. Finally, intellectual opinion was divided over the value of the games. Plato, for example, thought that training athletes for the games was of little relevance for the real world of fighting. Interestingly, the debate was over whether the games improved men for war and not whether the culture of war itself was bad. The only connection with a culture of peace was the possibility of a reduction in warfare during the games and not that the games would somehow make for a more peaceful Greek city-state society for the rest of the four year period. Warfare was the norm and the Olympics did not end it.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin added to the ancient Olympic myth. He was the founder of the modem Olympic movement just over a century ago. He said that the games should promote international understanding, brotherhood and peace. They had not been successful in this in ancient Greece and yet he implied that they had. In fact, the modem games have often been affected by violence. There have been three cancellations (1916, 1940 and 1944) owing to the two World Wars. Other games have been disrupted by political disputes, such as the boycott by the US and some of its allies of the 1980 Moscow games because of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

It is assumed that groups with their own political agenda may also disrupt the Sydney games. Certainly the New South Wales police have been granted additional powers to control outbreaks of public disturbance. The Olympic areas are now covered by special legislation that, among other things, forbids public assembly without approval, the use of sound-generating devices, the distribution of advertising material or information leaflets and anything else that may be deemed annoying or inconvenient. An annual major military exercise with the US has been cancelled because the army cannot cope with both a military exercise and the games at the same time.

Meanwhile, there will be disruptions well after the games finish. Most court cases have been deferred because there is a risk that jurors will not be available on the days of the trials. Police will be drafted in from the rest of New South Wales and so they will have accumulated leave due to them after the games. This anticipated backlog of cases will be aggravated because it is assumed that the peaceful games will have the usual bouts of hooliganism and violence and so will generate their own sources of work for the legal system. Additionally, criminals will take advantage of the redeployment of the police, and so in areas where the police are thin on the ground there may be an increase in criminal activities. …

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