Sydney 2000: Games of environmental responsibility and inclusion

20 Nov 2020
Sydney 2000 Legacy

There were several key objectives for the Olympic Games Sydney 2000. The platform provided by hosting the Games was to be used to redevelop run-down areas of Sydney. Environmentally responsible, world-class facilities in and around Sydney Olympic Park were to be created. And Australia’s Aboriginal heritage was to be highlighted and promoted.

 Johncarnemolla / | A view of the Sydney Olympic Park, which covers 640 hectares that include sports facilities, green space and parklands.

One of the most successful aspects of Sydney’s urban development was the transformation of Homebush Bay, a run-down area of the city. Previously used for abattoirs and depositing liquid waste, the centre of this highly contaminated wasteland was transformed into Sydney Olympic Park. It is now home to 230 businesses and boasts more than 14 million visitors a year. The park’s 2030 masterplan intends to create more than 30,000 jobs and is committed to making the park carbon zero by 2030.

Ahead of the Games, central Sydney also underwent considerable refurbishment. A long-term strategy to make the city more attractive for working, living and visiting sought to improve public amenities and increase the amount of green space.

Sydney 2000’s goals were designed to leave enduring and positive legacies for both the city and Australia itself. Many continue to yield benefits for Australian communities to this day.

Environmental efforts

The creation of new, environmentally responsible facilities across Sydney, and the widespread conservation efforts which took place in the years leading up to the Games, are among the most important and internationally recognised legacies of the Olympic Games Sydney 2000.

Every aspect of the venues and the Olympic Village was built using environmentally responsible materials, while the Games were used to transform many of the city’s surrounding areas. In total, 160 hectares of waterways were cleaned, and 180 hectares of industrial wasteland were reclaimed, with some transformed into new habitats for endangered species. Australia’s first urban water recycling system was established and continues to save 850 million litres of drinking water a year.

Australia’s Aboriginal heritage

Promoting Australia’s Aboriginal heritage and encouraging the inclusion of indigenous peoples during the Olympic Games were key components of Sydney 2000’s objectives.

In the months prior to the Games, the city conducted a series of landmark reconciliation efforts, initiating a process which culminated in a formal apology to Aboriginal people from Australia’s Prime Minister in 2008.

Aboriginal icon Cathy Freeman was chosen as the “Face of the Games” and lit the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony. The Games also launched a series of annual Aboriginal arts and culture festivals, which continue to this day. One such event, the Yabun Festival, attracts 26,000 visitors every year.

Sydney Olympic Park

Two decades on, the Olympic Park has come to represent a successful model for the post-Games use of Olympic venues. It receives more than 14 million visitors a year, is home to 230 businesses and has a daily community of approximately 21,600. The business model put in place by the Sydney Olympic Park Authority (SOPA) has successfully combined sport, commercial development and environmental awareness. The park hosts major events, ranging from the Big Day Out music festival to the Sydney International tennis tournament.

Created through redeveloping industrial wasteland in Homebush Bay, the park attracted five million visitors during Sydney 2000.

However, the early transition years following the Games were anything but straightforward. By 2003, a mere 1,500 workers had relocated to the brand-new office spaces within the park. Even tourism was sluggish and, with just 740,827 tourists visiting the park in 2005 – fewer than half the number who had visited in 2003 – it was in danger of being branded a failure.

Despite experiencing a difficult period following the Games, and it taking more than five years to identify a successful business model, the park is now a thriving cluster of world-class sports, entertainment and business facilities.

During the 2020s, the Sydney Olympic Park Masterplan 2030 will inject another AUD 2.7 billion of funding into the park to expand it and create thousands more homes and jobs. SOPA’s goal is to make the park carbon zero by 2030.

International positioning of Sydney

Two of the main aims of the Sydney 2000 Organising Committee were to use the event as a leveraging tool to boost the city’s international standing as an innovative and technologically advanced centre, and to raise the city’s status as a world-class tourism destination and business hub.

While the former is harder to quantify, staging the Games enabled Sydney to demonstrate that it could efficiently organise an event of such magnitude. From a business perspective, statistics have repeatedly shown that hosting the Games has yielded benefits for Sydney. For example, by 2003 the number of annual hotel stays within the city’s central business district had exceeded seven million for the first time. Sydney has continued to be a preferred location for the regional head offices of major global corporations.

However, while new hotel rooms built for Olympic attendees increased the city’s total hotel capacity by 25 per cent, the expected increase in tourism during the decade following the Games did not materialise. Sydney’s share of international tourism actually fell between 2000 and 2009. Potential contributory factors included the high value of the Australian dollar, the global recession and the SARS outbreak in Asia.

Since 2011, though, international visitor numbers to New South Wales have surged, making it difficult to determine whether the Olympic Games Sydney 2000 have had any residual effect.


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