The former Olympics Minister Michael Knight has praised the joint entry of South and North Korea at the opening ceremony of 2000 Sydney Olympics as a historic moment making the whole world recognise the importance of the unity of the Korean peninsula.
Q: This year is the 20th anniversary of the 2000 Sydney Olympics. As the Minister of the Sydney Olympics, how do you feel?
MK – Oh, I still feel very proud and I still like the fact that even 20 years after the event, complete strangers come up to me on the street and say something nice. And it’s not to say what a good job I did or what a good job the organisers did, it’s something much more important. They come to tell me about their experience, about the joy that they had, what happened to them personally during the games and how they feel about it. And that’s just so satisfying to see people just so happy 20 years after the event.
Q: As we know, the Sydney Olympics was praised as the “best game”. But what do you think makes the Sydney Olympics the best Olympic in our modern history?
MK – Every Olympic Games is special. And I’ve been lucky enough to be to seven of them. Every one’s special in its own way, and each four years a range of things should get better – the quality of the television pictures should improve, the modernisation of the transport should get better, the technology in the stadiums – all those thing should always be improving every four years.
But I think what other games have struggled to replicate is the spirit that made Sydney so special. It was really the spirit of the games, the way the Australian people reacted to the games, to the athletes, to our visitors from so many countries – that’s what made it special.
You know, if you’re running a party, if you’re organising a party, you need to get a venue right, you need to get some entertainment, you need to get the catering. But whether it’s a good party or a great party depends on the attitude of the people who attend. And that’s what made Sydney so special – just the way in which the general public partied, celebrated, embraced and that unadulterated joy that spread across the whole of the city, and indeed the whole of the nation. And that’s what’s very special.
Q: So to summarise up your answer, it’s the spirit of Australia and that made the Sydney Olympics to be special in the modern history. Is that right?
MK – Yeah, the spirit was the very special thing about it.
And of course, we had the great advantage because we’re one of the most multicultural nations in the world. And so, when we welcomed athletes and visitors from around the world, we had Australians who were linked in to those cultures and those communities. So we had an Italian Australian community, we had a Korean Australian community. We had so many local communities that reached out and embraced the athletes and the visitors from other countries. And that’s hard for anyone else to do.
Q: At the Sydney Olympics opening ceremony, South and North Korea marched together under one flag in the same uniform for the first time since the division in 1945. What is the significance of the historic moment?
MK – Well, I wouldn’t presume to say what that means to Korean people. That’s for them to judge.
All I can say is for those of us who were in the stadium, it was a remarkable moment. It was so special and it reminded us that although you’ve got two systems with very different political parties with very different political systems, you had so much more underneath that united them as people. And one of the great things that the Olympics does is that it brings out the best in all of us. And I think to see the two Koreas together was just so special.
Now, I won’t pretend that that solves all of the geo political issues or cultural issues in Korea – and clearly it hasn’t. But it was a very seminal moment to see the athletes and the officials together and to see the way in which the rest of the world recognised the importance and the unity of that.
Q: It’s already been 20 years since the Sydney Olympic. Can I please ask you to share with us what is your best memory toward the Sydney Olympics?
MK– Oh, I have so many memories and there were so many remarkable sporting moments and so many moments that involved the crowd, and people out celebrating – not just at the events but in the broader Sydney community.
But I suppose if I had to single one thing out, it was Cathy Freeman lighting the cauldron at the opening ceremony. And what happened is all of Australia embraced a young, Aboriginal woman representing all of us. And that was a very important moment in terms of reconciliation with our First Nations People. It was terrific not just that Cathy did it but the way in which people in the stadium, people in their homes, people watching television embraced Cathy, embraced that moment and thought that she was absolutely the right person to do it. And of course, it wasn’t bad that a few days later she won the 400m gold on the track as well!