I remember vividly the way that Sydney was during the 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Years of preparations - and not a little local cynicism - made way for six weeks of celebration, unrivalled in my memory and many others, as the best of times for Sydney. An incredible 3.7 billion people watched Sydney on television around the world, 6.7 million tickets were sold for the Olympics alone, and 300,000 visitors descended on the city.
Those of us who were around back then will remember that handling that scale of event was a big challenge for Sydney. A city of just 4 million people at the time, was stretched for a number of years to accommodate the requirements of the world's largest event. I remember what seemed to be never-ending roadworks and a whole city under construction. Locals who bought into dire predictions of traffic chaos and overcrowding left town. Most have regretted it ever since. They know now that they missed out on the time of their lives.
The experience was of an entire city, a whole community, so excited to show its guests all that we had to offer, that the result was a party like no-one - neither us as hosts nor our visitors from around Australia and the world - had ever seen before. It took us by surprise. We just had no idea how big, how good, how much fun it was going to be. Twenty years later, even as Brisbane now firms as a future Olympic City, people around the world still talk fondly of those heady days in Sydney in September 2000.
I can't help drawing some comparisons as we prepare for the UCI Road World Championships here in Wollongong in 2022. Proportionately, the UCI Road World Championships are actually likely to be bigger in Wollongong than the Olympics were in Sydney. Sydney entertained about the same number of spectators across the busiest eight days of the Games as its whole population at the time. The UCI Road World Championships will welcome more spectators during the eight days of our event than our city's 300,000 residents.
Although the Olympic Games felt like it took place across the whole of Sydney, in reality its venues were quite concentrated in Sydney Olympic Park and Darling Harbour. On the other hand, the various race courses needed in Wollongong to stage 11 separate World Championship events across eight days will truly engage our whole city and region. And if we thought the party fully consumed Sydney in 2000, wait until we experience what an eight-day city-wide festival celebration, Wollongong-style, feels like!
If we thought the party fully consumed Sydney in 2000, wait until we experience what an eight-day city-wide festival celebration, Wollongong-style, feels like!
It's no wonder I guess, that people we spoke to recently in research focus groups both in Wollongong and Sydney spontaneously referred to the UCI Road World Championships as being "Wollongong's Olympic Games". And the similarities don't end with the challenges of preparation and the event time experience. In the same way as the scale and global profile of Sydney 2000 created lasting benefits for Sydney, the UCI Road World Championships will do the same for Wollongong.
A global television audience of more than quarter of a billion people will see the breathtaking beauty of Wollongong as 1000 of the world's best cyclists, from 75 countries, glide past it. The format of road cycling provides some of the best destinational showcasing opportunities of any major event, and a week's worth of international commentary will provide thousands of broadcast hours for which Wollongong's story will be the soundtrack. The tourism promotional value will be immeasurable. Just as the 2000 Olympic Games put Sydney on many international maps, so too will the UCI Road World Championships do for Wollongong.
And just as the Olympic Games delivered great legacy sporting and transport infrastructure for Sydney, the UCI Road World Championships will provide real focus to deliver cycling and other community infrastructure for Wollongong. The recent awarding of the UCI Bike City label to Wollongong, off the back of our winning the Road World Championships hosting rights, creates further impetus for this legacy effort. No doubt the city will be working hard to live up to this international recognition, and the "world city" company that it puts us in.
And my last but certainly not least important comparison, is with the way that hosting the Olympic Games made people in Sydney feel. Never has Sydney been more proud as a place and as a united community. Never has it been more reassured of its capability. Never has it been more aware of just how good a place it is - if you're fortunate enough to live there. Never has it felt better.
And that feeling too, perhaps more importantly than any other, is one benefit that hosting the UCI Road World Championships in September 2022 will allow Wollongong to share. But this time around, we shouldn't be so surprised.
- Stu Taggart is Chief Executive Officer of Wollongong 2022