Fireworks ban set for opening ceremonies

By Stephen Wilson

ACAPULCO - It's hard to imagine an Olympic opening or closing ceremony without fireworks exploding in the night sky over a packed stadium.

That tradition could be on the way out, though, under a proposal being considered by the International Olympic Committee.

IOC President Jacques Rogge yesterday said his organisation would study recommendations to eliminate firework displays in a bid to protect the environment by cutting harmful emissions.

"I'm not saying we are going to eliminate fireworks," Rogge said. "I'm saying we're going to study it seriously."

Sri Lanka's national Olympic committee proposed the measure, suggesting that technology or laser shows could replace fireworks.

"Environment is environment," said Maxwell De Silva, secretary general of the Sri Lankan committee. "The clashing of your ideals is on the one hand saying, 'OK, clean games,' on the other hand you are polluting - it's a contradiction."

Rogge said he would raise the issue with the IOC environment commission and Olympic host organisers.

"We have to evaluate the carbon footprint," said IOC executive board member Thomas Bach of Germany. "If it's significant, I think it's a good idea to speak with the organisers.

"I could imagine an opening ceremony without fireworks. Maybe, it's a matter of taste, but for me it would depend on the significance of the impact on the environment. If that's significant, then why not?"

Gilbert Felli, the IOC's executive director of the Olympic Games, said officials needed to strike the right balance between environmental protection and sporting entertainment.

"We are trying to understand if we can have the same feeling, the same festive aspect, and reducing the footprint or the energy," he said.

It wouldn't be the first time the IOC dropped a major feature of the opening ceremony. Rogge noted that the IOC did away with the tradition of releasing doves after many of the birds were burned to death during the lighting of the cauldron at the opening of the Seoul Olympics in 1988.

"We got a lot of emotions coming from the World Wildlife Fund and animal protection [groups] and the IOC decided on no release of doves any more," he said.

London Olympics organisers said they had only started working on preliminary plans for their opening ceremony, which would be handled by Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle.

"We haven't gotten to the stage of discussing fireworks," London 2012 spokeswoman Jackie Brock-Doyle said.

"I will listen to the observations of all 205 national Olympic committees," London organising committee head Sebastian Coe said. "But at this moment, my focus is on delivering the 26 sports. I don't have a fireworks policy."

There was a minor controversy over the fireworks at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics after it was revealed that some of the display featured prerecorded footage.

Fireworks that burst into the shape of 29 gigantic footprints were shown trudging above the Beijing skyline. Though the fireworks were real, some of the footage shown to television viewers around the world and on giant screens inside the Bird's Nest stadium featured a computer-generated three-dimensional image.

"You can always replace fireworks with technology, with laser shows," De Silva said in an interview. "I don't know why you can't do that. We always use fireworks. I saw it in Beijing in a big way. I'm betting the same thing will be in London and Rio."

De Silva said he would write to organisers in London but thought any change might be more realistic for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

"Maybe, Rio would be the right place to do it, but if you don't talk now this will go away," he said.

On a separate issue, Rogge said the IOC would widen its efforts to crack down on illegal sports betting.

The IOC already uses a company to monitor betting patterns during the Olympics. No cases were reported during the Beijing or Vancouver Games.

Rogge said the IOC had drafted regulations for sanctioning athletes, coaches and officials who engaged in illegal betting. He said the IOC would offer to help other sports bodies monitor regional and continental competitions.

The IOC will meet various government officials in January or February to work on a common policy. "Just as for doping, we need the help of governments in order to hunt down the perpetrators of illegal betting," Rogge said.

- AP

- NZ Herald

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