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September 12, 2000
Politics upstages Olympic torchBarry Moody
The Olympic flame finally arrived in Sydney on Monday but politics, gambling and scandal were still grabbing headlines four days before the Games begin.
Politics, never far away from the Olympics, made an early entrance when the U.S. basketball team were trapped in their Melbourne hotel by violent protests against an international business forum.
The team were forced to train in the hotel and conference centre after about 1,500 anti-globalisation protesters blockaded the complex to disrupt the World Economic Forum.
At least eight people, including five police, were injured in clashes outside the complex, where the three-day Asia Pacific forum, dubbed the "Business Olympics" is being held.
The protesters blocked access for about 200 of 800 delegates and forced others, including Australian Prime Minister John Howard, to use boats or helicopters to get to the conference.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it was confident Sydney authorities would cope if the protesters also targeted the Games.
Police have said they expect at least some members of the loose alliance of protesters to move on to the Olympics.
Aborigine groups also plan to use the Games to draw attention to their demands for better treatment for indigenous Australians.
Thousands of Australians, some with their faces painted in the green and yellow national colours, lined the streets of the Sydney suburb of Sutherland to cheer on a relay of torch bearers carrying the flame into the home of the millennium Games.
Sydneysiders have been slow to get into the party mood for the 17-day sporting extravaganza which opens on Friday, when the Olympic flame will be used to light a giant cauldron in the main Stadium Australia.
Newspapers urged them to start getting in the spirit with the arrival of the torch on Day 96 of a 100-day relay that began on June 8 in the spiritual and geographical heart of Australia at Uluru, formerly known as Ayers Rock.
At a pre-Games meeting in Sydney, the IOC said none of its members were among up to 40 people reported to have been allowed into Australia for the Games despite being on a list of "undesirables" who would have been banned at other times.
But the IOC has now backed away from a confrontation with Australia over the banning of two senior sports administrators from Uzbekistan and Hong Kong, accepting Canberra's right to bar them for unspecified security reasons.
A leading IOC anti-doping official said on Monday that in the war to stamp out performance-enhancing drugs, athletes will for the first time face out-of-competition tests as late as the evening before their events.
But an early drug bust, against an Uzbek official, may have been a mistake.
Uzbekistan National Olympic Committee chief Sabirjan Ruziev said official Sergei Voynov, who was detained at Sydney airport for carrying banned drugs, needed them for a skin complaint and had now gone to hospital with cardiac problems.
The IOC, meeting ahead of the Games, said it would try to ban athletes from betting on their own or their rivals' performances.
The IOC's ethics commission decided such betting was against the "fundamental ethical principles which are at the foundation of Olympism."
The issue has become controversial here because the Australian Olympic Committee announced in July that its athletes were free to bet on themselves or their rivals.
The IOC's ethics chief also said during the meeting that IOC members could take legal action over allegations made about them in a document released by the organisers of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.
Allegations that Salt Lake city officials offered lavish gifts, scholarships and medical treatment to win the right to host the Games led to 10 IOC members resigning or being expelled.
Closer to the sporting action, the athletes started the mind games intended to psyche themselves up and intimidate their opponents.
In one of the blue riband events, the 100 metres, defending Olympic champion Donovan Bailey said his experience of winning in Atlanta in 1996 would give him the edge here, dismissing his recent poor times as irrelevant.
Most pundits see the Canadian sprinter as an outsider but he said in a break from training: "I am the only man in the field who knows what it takes to win an Olympic 100 metres final and that counts for something."
But the favourite in Sydney, Maurice Greene of the United States, said the only man he feared in his quest for Olympic gold was himself.
The Olympic build-up at least gave the world's oldest surviving medallist the chance to salve his conscience after 80 years.
"Harry" Hal Haig Prieste, 103, a former Keystone Kop, finally gave the IOC back an Olympic flag that he stole at the Antwerp Games in 1920.
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