Olympic Games get coat of green Environment: Sydney, Australia, got the 2000 Games partly because it presented a tree-hugging image, and future contenders can expect to have to do the same.

Sun Journal

September 04, 1997|By Ted Chan | Ted Chan,SUN STAFF

HOMEBUSH BAY, Australia -- When the International Olympic Committee convenes this week to select the site of the 2004 Summer Olympiad, it will reflect on what is happening in this epicenter of metropolitan Sydney.

The site includes an industrial waste dump, an armaments depot, a brickworks pit and wetlands, not to mention one of the deadliest traffic intersections in the region.

From this will come the first Olympics of the next millennium, the 2000 Olympiad. By then, Sydney has promised, the Homebush Bay site will be a model of environmentalism for future Olympics.

After Australia won its Olympics bid in 1993, IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch acknowledged that Sydney had been chosen "partly because of the consideration they gave to environmental matters."

Having the newest, biggest stadium and biggest corporate bankroll would no longer provide a big advantage in the bidding war.

"We first talked to groups like Greenpeace to make sure we had environmental-friendly ideas," says Reg Gratton, a spokesman for the Sydney Olympics organizing committee. "Our application included environmental guidelines that went farther than our competitors."

The IOC, in fact, has based its environmental guidelines for future bidders on the Sydney model. And it has made the environment a third tenet of the Olympic Movement's philosophy, along with athletics and cultural exchange.

That has made respect for the environment one of the determining factors in the selection of Olympic sites.

Athens, Greece -- considered a strong contender for the 2004 Olympics -- must prove, for example, that it can reduce severe pollution from auto emissions. Athens officials say that a new subway system and beltway around the city will reduce the pollution.

They are also suggesting a mid-August Games, when wind from the north typically cleanses the air, rather than July.

"The die is now cast as far as future Olympics being green, too," says Ian Kiernan, a member of the Sydney Olympics' environmental committee and one of the early leaders in protecting Australia's natural resources.

A look at Sydney as recently as 1989 would not have suggested the city as the prototype of the IOC's environmental awareness. Litter fouled the Sydney Harbor and beaches.

But Kiernan launched a one-day clean-up campaign, and Sydney residents responded. Environmentalism rapidly became a popular cause and dovetailed with Sydney's bid for the Olympics.

When the British arrived in 1788 to turn Australia into a penal colony, Homebush Bay consisted of tidal wetlands and forests.

In 1810, D'Arcy Wentworth, a surgeon who had been convicted of bank robbery in England, bought 370 hectares of land, named his property Home Bush and started a horse farm and cattle operation.

When he died in 1827, he left most of the estate to his son, William, who built a horse track that became the center of Australian racing in the late 19th century.

Over the next decades, the government made bricks, slaughtered sheep and cattle, dumped waste and stored munitions for the Australian, U.S. and British navies at Homebush Bay. Now, all that history is being replaced, with an eye toward the environment.

Bricks and concrete from demolished buildings are being crushed and recycled to build sporting facilities and infrastructures. The need for trucks to lumber along suburban roads, hauling the rubble away and bringing landfill back into Homebush Bay, has thus been reduced.

In addition, the steel and copper electricity cables, as well as the aluminum, from the slaughterhouse have been melted down and shipped overseas for recycling.

The Olympic Village here is being touted as a model of environmental awareness for new homes. Solar power will be used for street lighting, water heating and air conditioning. There will be on-site treatment of kitchen and bath water, for reuse on gardens and to wash vehicles.

Environmentally harmful gases in insulation, refrigeration and air conditioners will be banned. After the Games, the village will become a new suburb for 6,000 residents.

At the athletic sites, natural lighting and ventilation are being stressed, using translucent roofs and a duct system that provides up to 15 changes of air per hour. Rainwater from the roof of the Olympic Stadium will be stored in an aquifer under the playing surface and used for irrigation. Backwash from the aquatic center will be recycled and used in landscape irrigation.

Next to the Olympic area, one of the most important wetlands in the Sydney area is being preserved. The mangroves and salt marshes are visited by 140 species of birds, including migratory breeds from as far away as Alaska and Siberia.

Millions of cubic feet of industrial waste are being moved to landfills that have mile-long gabion walls. The landfill will be capped with top soil and landscaped as part of a public leisure area next to the Olympic grounds.

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