Sydney Straya's guide to putting on a bonza Olympics

Jul 20, 2012
Sydney Straya

We asked an old hand from Sydney 2000 to tell G4S and the UK government how it should have been done

WHEN Michael Knight, Sydney's Olympics minister for the 2000 Games, was asked why he was so dictatorial, his answer was direct: "We only have one chance to get it right on the world stage?"

Knight, the basketballer-tall Labour head kicker, had to use all his backroom brawling skills to pull together the Olympics still regarded as the 'best ever'...  as bestowed by then IOC chief Juan Antonio Samaranch.

The UK does not have a designated full-time Olympics minister capable of bringing every arm of government into Olympic delivery. Mistake number one. Olympics delivery is no place for teddy bear huggers such as Cameron, Boris, Lord Coe or part-timer Jeremy Hunt.

These are student politicians compared to Knight, who grew up in the mean 'give no quarter' streets of Labour party factionalism in 1960s Sydney. These are the mean mothers who schooled Rupert Murdoch in ball busting politicking.

Knight had an armtwisting right-hand man called David Richmond, also of the Labour Sydney mean streets. He headed the Olympic Coordination Authority - Sydney's equivalent of Locog.

Richmond and the OCA could provide spine for the real delivery of what really needed to happen to put on a disruptive Olympics in a big modern city with frayed infrastructure when you can't have Beijing-style central committee 'shoot-the-recalcitrant' totalitarianism.

Without quite shooting quibbling democrats and bureaucrats who tried to insist on due process, Knight, Richmond and the OCA were able to ram through decisions and delivery.

When US TV wanted some big power lines put underground so the view from the Olympic Stadium towards Sydney Harbour was more perfect, it just happened, because Knight and Richmond were twisting arms so effectively that the screams were largely not heard in public. Most of the blood was washed away, although the media was occasionally troublesome enough to query whether a picture-perfect Sydney was worth traducing democracy.

The answer? 'Get with the plan.'

As for transport and security it is already too late for London to catch up with Sydney. A year before the Sydney Olympics, the consortia delivering Olympic transport had a mini trial. It was a disaster - but a year, not a fortnight, before the Games. That was London's biggest mistake. You can't outsource these key services.

So Knight and Richmond went into overdrive. Some senior people were sacked and many very big egos were crushed. Big Jim Bosnjak who ran most of the buses in Sydney was given the biggest kicking of his life, but at least was living to restart the plan.

New laws were drafted, a whole air force base was hijacked, new training was introduced and payment was changed so if you didn't perform in all the training drills over many months, you felt it in the wallet.

The transport challenge in an Olympics is to keep the already strained systems running while introducing hundreds of extra buses and trains, and also cutting out many major traffic lanes for the limousines of the 'Olympic family'... the senior committee people, many from dodgy countries, who don't expect traffic lights to impede their progress from five-star hotels to favoured seating.

The OCA took over Sydney's traffic lights and rail signalling system, but also did very smart hidden stuff like building longer passing loops for longer trains, storing up reserve buses in closed-off streets and parks, and monitoring every Olympic pass to see the address of the ticket-holder and then having the right number of bus and trains lined up heading in the right direction when the venues emptied.

Six and three months before the Games, every bus and train driver, many from country centres hundreds of kilometres from Sydney, drove every route they would have to cover in their own bus.

A video was made showing every route and every venue so drivers at home in Wagga Wagga or Lightning Ridge could study it over and over months before they drove their Olympic passengers. They were even schooled into greeting every athlete and visitor with a smile and a 'G'day'.

The same training was given to all the police, including those brought from other states of Australia, army and private security guards. They all had days and days of training on how to move big crowds on while smiling and being happy Aussies.

And all that arm twisting and training worked. Sydney was the best ever Games... and the city's public transport has never been so on-time, friendly or clean since.

Footnote: Michael Knight ended up being sacked as a minister and bowed out of politics. Even being an effective bovver boy in Sydney politics has a short shelf life.

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According to J. A. Samaranch, every host city managed to organize the "best ever games" bar one...

Yes..true,but Sydney was the best. :)