Successful Trial Run Complete, Sydney Looks to ICIAM 2003

November 21, 2000

Noel Barton, Congress Director for ICIAM 2003.

Noel Barton

In this update, I feel obliged to write about a recent sporting event held in Sydney. Actually, it was quite a large event---it involved some 10,000 competitors from more than 150 countries and a total budget of many billions of dollars. An army of people, including 57,000 unpaid volunteers, managed the event. That's right, 57,000 volunteers!

Pictures from this event were broadcast worldwide, and you probably saw some spectacular shots of Sydney, which does admittedly have a superb location on its harbour, etched curvaceously into an ancient sandstone plateau.

It's fair to say that Sydney's infrastructure, venues, and transport systems were stress-tested by the experience. The venues for the event were generally new and proved highly suitable for the purpose. Over 90% of the tickets for events were sold, including those to the vast main stadium. The transport system was a surprising success. On one memorable day, over 400,000 visitors attended the main complex of venues. The airport, traditionally not Sydney's best or most efficient feature, somehow managed to cope with a never-ending stream of giant aircraft. The suburban rail system, also usually more criticised than praised, worked effectively under immense loads. The road system was remarkably effective, helped by many locals taking recreation leave during the event.

The event involved giant egos and extremely close scrutiny by the world's media. There were some mistakes, even quite big ones when viewed in isolation. However in the grand sweep of the event, the mistakes were relatively minor and did not detract from the fundamental success. It was a time that brought out the best aspects of Australians' human nature. Sure, there were doubters and cynics who cringed at our abilities or worth to undertake such a mammoth task. But after a while, when it was clear that the preparations were sound and everything was going well, a remarkable transformation took place locally---it became a giant festival, a celebration, a cause for enjoyment. There was a mature recognition of our own brand of efficiency. Quirky, yes; antipodean and different, yes; but it works! Even the hard-bitten local media muted their traditional negativity.

And now it's over. We are transformed and uplifted by the experience. At the end of the day, I think the general consensus is one of strong success and acknowledgment worldwide that a good job has been done.

What on earth, you might ask, do the Games of the 27th Olympiad have to do with ICIAM 2003? I see a parallel. The local applied mathematical community has taken on a bold initiative, one that will stretch our abilities, but all for a wonderful and transcendent cause. If at the end of the day, the worldwide expression of industrial and applied mathematics has been advanced and there is international recognition and gratitude for our achievements, then we too will relax on our laurel wreaths. Until then, we have much to do, and those efforts are under way.

Further, several Olympic events---notably the weightlifting---were held at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre (, which is the venue for ICIAM 2003.

In my next update, I'll write about the activities of the International Program Committee, which is currently compiling a long list of possible plenary speakers for ICIAM 2003. I encourage you to make plans to attend ICIAM 2003; don't forget to check progress on our Web site (

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