So the Sydney Olympics were a big fat waste of $2.5bn. And that, of course, is the reason for NSW’s current economic crisis. If this is news to you, then you may have missed a recent bah-humbug editorial in the Sydney Moaning Herald blaming the Games for the sorry State that Sydney is in.

Last week, UK broadsheet The Daily Telegraph picked up this baton and ran with it at great length to report on the hangover that apparently still lingers, seven years after Sydney’s epic party. But if we put the figures in context, far from being a waste of money, Sydney got the bargain of the millennium.

If 2012 is going to cost London an Atlas-sized burden of $22.5bn (£9bn), as the Telegraph projects, then Sydney’s $2.5bn figure surely represents extraordinarily good value for money, even taking into account inflation, increased security measures and differences in currency strength. Whatever the eventual cost, London’s bill will be a hell of a high jump – not least to the city’s disgruntled taxpayers – and yet the likelihood is that their Games will still fail to clear the bar set by Sydney. (For the record, Athens cost AUD$9.3bn and Beijing is projected to cost AUD$51.7bn – they’re basically using the Olympics as an excuse to modernise the city.)

Why? Because around the world Sydney 2000 is held up as a shining Olympic torch of an example for others to follow – “the most successful Games ever”, as Tessa Jowell, Britain’s Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, put it recently. For building a stage on which to showcase everything that is great about Australia – and doing so on time and to budget pretty much without a hitch – the NSW government should be given a medal, not a demerit.

The only things that the British government will have round its neck are a ruddy great albatross and an ever-tightening noose. Already questions are being asked about where all this money is coming from, and whether it wouldn’t be better spent on supporting the crippled National Health Service, the broken down transport system, or hey, maybe even investing in proper sports academies so that the British people will at least have something to cheer at the end of all this. Rather than celebrating having “won” the Olympics, one wag on the Telegraph’s website quipped: “Let’s quickly fail a drugs test and hand the 2012 burden on to the silver medallists in Paris.”

London’s recent record of getting things right is somewhat patchy. Just look at the new Wembley stadium – a monumental embarrassment that will cost a staggeringly over-budget $2bn (double what was originally agreed) when Australian contractors Multiplex finally finish it, over a year late. And the less said about the farcical Millennium Dome (another $2bn), the better.

If the Olympics are the world’s greatest celebration of amateurism, then perhaps they couldn’t wish for a better host. Even if London does get its act together, it’s going to require a Herculean effort to get anywhere near Sydney’s success. That’s got to be worth $2.5bn for the bragging rights alone.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey