HYPE Das the biggest, the best, and the most successful, the Atlanta Games fell short on many fronts, except err-ant commercialism. Determined that the Games would be funded entirely by corporate sources, rather than the government, this year's Olympics taught the Americans that there's a flip side to relying solely on the private sector. They are feeling shortchanged, not just by security lapses and the shoddy TV coverage, but also by the mammoth traffic snarl-ups and the inability of the public to use anything but the MARTA subway, already groaning under traffic overload and human gridlock.
Atlanta's transportation nightmare began the day of the opening ceremony when fans waited hours for buses to take them home. And they only got worse. Athletes were late for competitions or missed events altogether because bus drivers were lost or late; the VIPs couldn't take simple trips across town and bus services for the media became so unreliable that cabs and cars took over as modes of transportation. In the first week, a team of British rowers hijacked a bus to take them to Lake Lanier. The lapses were especially embarrassing as Olympic organisers had promoted the Atlanta Games as a symbol of the "can-do" spirit and sophistication of the New South.
A.D. Frazier of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) criticised the city programme that allowed hundreds of vendors to set up shops selling T-shirts and food near the Centennial Olympic Park, considered the heart and soul of the Games venue. Vendors occupied sidewalk space, forcing pedestrians onto the streets and clogging traffic lanes. "The streetvending thing never should have happened," said Frazier. "They weren't policed. There's no doubt it encumbered traffic flow." International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials also expressed displeasure at the carnival atmosphere created by the street vendors. Juan Antonio Samaranch, IOC's president, said he would tighten control over future money-making ventures that cities employ.
Nevertheless, despite the traffic, the vendors, and the bomb blast that killed two and injured 111 people in the Centennial Olympic park, Frazier proclaimed the Games a success. ACOG sold 8.6 million tickets with a 95 per cent attendance rate—more than total tickets sold in Barcelona and Los Angeles combined. "It was the biggest there ever will be," proclaimed Frazier.
But not many fans agree with him. Matthew Stone of Durham, N.C. thought downtown Atlanta was too commercialised. "The whole thing was about making money." Diana Keese of Seattle said security precautions caused her to wait in a mile-long queue for a basketball event. "It's pretty bad when you pay $100 a ticket and only see the second half," she grumbled.
Her complaint does little to dampen the exultation of ACOG President Billy Payne, who called the Games "the biggest peacetime event and greatest Olympics ever". Said he: "What we have just witnessed was the organisation of two-and-a-half Olympic Games in one." Responding to IOC and media critics' comments on the Games being overcrowded and having too much of a strip-mall feel, Payne said: "I don't think you can ever have too many fans... I think the people appreciated the Games and I know the athletes appreciated the full stadiums. Certain constituencies with different agendas may say otherwise, but we achieved our goals."
Atlanta residents complained of not being able to get tickets in their own city. A woman who volunteered more than two months of her time to ACOG was unable to get tickets. She was particularly annoyed because "the ACOG kept my money for more than six months and charged me a service fee of $15". Local enterprises also complained that the new influx of promised business never materialised. Said a boutique owner whose establishment was a mile from the Georgia Dome: "We expected to quadruple our business.
After making this big outlay, I am going to be in debt for a long time." Others were slightly luckier. Many house-owners stayed with friends and rented their homes for enormous sums. Ten thousand dollars was the going rate for a suburban home for two weeks.
But perhaps the biggest letdown was the television coverage. NBC acquired the monopoly for the telecast and did perhaps the worst job ever. After bidding for and paying nearly $470 million to cover the Games, the network was determined to get back every cent it had spent on Atlanta or lost in Barcelona. Thirty-second spots went for $70,000 and interruptions were so frequent that viewers watched more of Budweiser, Coke, Reebok and Infiniti ads than events which were interspersed in little snippets. If it wasn't ads interrupting events, then it was a plethora of feel-good feature stories on the athletes. There was no coverage of events if Americans were not competing or were not expected to win a medal. Most commentators were so partisan that they could well have been cheerleaders. So much so that Washington Post carried an Op-ed article apologising for NBC's bad taste. The network itself was so pleased with its soaring ratings that it refused to admit that it had sacrificed quality for crass commercialism. It said the coverage was aimed at attracting the female audience (which normally does not tune into sport) and on that score they were totally satis-ied with the results.