SYDNEY — Scrubbed and polished, the Olympics city is looking good. Sydneysiders are all-welcoming as the world jets in for Olympic Games 2000. So why are we so worried?

For starters, there’s media talk of possible terrorist attacks. Next, there are doubts over transporting so many international visitors into the picture-perfect games venue. Finally, there is the question of whether foreign activists will try to stir up protesting Aborigines.

The Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, SOCOG, surely the most criticized public body in local history, is confident the agonized-over preparations will be vindicated in a seamless display of every kind of competitive summer athletics. Quietly, Australians made skeptical by SOCOG’s past bungles — not to mention scandals generated within the world sports body, the International Olympic Committee — have their fingers crossed.

Just in case the pepped-up local police force cannot cope, Prime Minister John Howard has agreed to give the Australian Defense Force power to intervene if called upon. The civil libertarians are unhappy. So are unions, who fear the army may be called in to quell future strikes. Most Australians accept the measure, however, as part of the price the country pays for hosting an emotion-hyped international event.

A Munich Olympics-style attack should be virtually impossible. Security is so tight that no one can get near the Homebush Bay site in western Sydney without rigorous checks. Crack-shot army staffers have been drilling in Blackhawk helicopters for months to ensure first-strike advantage.

An advance shock has come from, of all places, New Zealand. There police pounced on a gang of illegal immigrant smugglers who had a map of Sydney detailing Australia’s only nuclear power plant. Security here dismissed claims of an imminent attack. Despite demands from residents for the plant to be closed temporarily, it will stay operational.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organization has been working closely for years with such counterparts as the U.S. CIA, Britain’s MI5 and Israel’s Mossad to ensure 300 known terrorist groups stay well away. An extra 100 staff members and an $18 million budget boost will make it hot for any incoming troublemaker.

Some 5,000 police backed by 4,000 Australian Defense Force personnel will patrol the venues. But the emphasis is on nipping trouble in the bud, preferably well offshore.

Sydneysiders are an open, easygoing lot, and they’re determined to make Olympic visitors welcome. Yet a small majority with non-Olympics agendas are known to be rallying to push their gripes in front of CNN and NBC cameras.

Games organizers have their fingers crossed that a government-subsidized Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission cultural pavilion at the Olympics site will not become a rallying point for lurid protests aimed at TV cameras. The display of indigenous culture and artifacts should be the big nonsports draw for foreign visitors. But protesters like the Anti-Olympic Alliance could turn it into a disaster area.

Nobody dares mention strikes. So far that old Australian union standby has only been called on once in this context. And with what finesse. Staff at a swank hotel where IOC chairman Juan Antonio Samarach will stay — over $4,000 a night — struck for higher pay during the games. Taxi drivers just had to mention the word strike and New South Wales Premier Bob Carr approved their pay rise.

Carr has staked his re-election on a Sydney success. Pity nobody told him to perfect the suburban train system before now. Trains have been running off the rails in record numbers lately. And the Olympics venue was built with minimal car and bus parking so most visitors will have to get there by train. Please, let there be no Atlanta-style transport foulups.

One big positive has come our way, however, and just in the nick of time. The Lausanne-based IOC has approved new tests to catch athletes using the banned drug, EPO. Trouble is, only 700 EPO tests will be carried out on the thousands of competitors. And what of the other performance-enhancing drugs being concocted, such as HGH, for which they are no tests?

Drug-free the Olympics won’t be, but you can bet they will be spectacular. The all-new Olympics complex is agreed by all to be a world-beater. The facilities and athletes’ village are beyond any built for earlier games. Even Greenpeace is moderately happy — 5 million trees planted for the occasion are out in full, springtime leaf.

And after all the gold medals have been handed out, the grand finale will lift the spirits of even the losers. Guaranteed to out-Hollywood the Atlanta closing ceremony, the Sydney finale is scheduled as a high-tech extravaganza of local (particularly Aboriginal) talent.

Even drag queens will get into the act, much to the horror of Christian Democrat parliamentarian Fred Nile. Drag queens dressed in frocks from the hit movie, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, will frolic in a party atmosphere as the Games’ swan song.

Fitting, really, when you consider that the annual festival that draws most overseas visitors to Sydney is the Gay Mardi Gras and that even San Francisco concedes Australia’s major city deserves the title of homosexual capital of the world.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.