The Barcelona Games and the 'Technological City'

Once upon a time it was enough for a city to boast a convenient location, attractive outlook and suitable geographical features when it made its bid to be an Olympic Host City. These days, the 'technological profile' of a bidding city has become one of the most vital criteria the Olympic Committee consider when selecting a site for the Games. The technology which surrounds the today's Games has been described as 'a complex web which comes between the sweat of the athletes and the audiences worldwide'. This technology, ever more sophisticated, remains largely transparent to the general public.

In order to stage the 1992 Games, the city of Barcelona embarked on a comprehensive programme of technological development involving the building and installation of optical fibre and broadband cables, satellite link stations and communications towers. The total information services budget for the Games was 1.2 billion pesetas, not including the Press Village budget, which cost an additional 2.7 billion pesetas.

The AMIC system which was designed for the Games provided a wide range of computerized information such as results, timetables, statistics, start lists, athlete profiles, and general data on topics such as the history of the Olympic movement, the tradition of the Olympic torch, weather forecasts, transport information and so on. Information was available in the four official languages (English, French, Spanish and Catalan), and the system was consulted more than eight million times over the one month period leading up to and during the Games.

The information system for media commentators offered a broad range of background information to assist journalists in discussing the political, cultural, sporting and historical aspects of the event, and was so sophisticated as to even indicate, via a system of green, yellow and red lights on the monitors, the best times to speak.

The information systems at the Barcelona Games were managed via a central office under maximum security - a reflection of the importance of telecommunications and computing technologies to the success of the event. Some 5,500 people were engaged to manage the centre's operations, working on continuous rotating shifts to repair any minor faults as soon as they occurred.

The main telecommunications infrastructure consisted of a 'network of networks' made up of different technologies including radiocommunications, optical fibre cable, coaxial cable, and satellite-based systems. Whilst most of the infrastructure was invisible to the public, the demands on Barcelona's telecommunications system during the Olympics was such as to necessitate the building of two large communications towers. One of these, the Collserola tower, at 288m, is now the tallest structure in Spain. Standing atop Collserola hill, the tower was a lynch-pin of the city's telecommunications system, serving as a base station for mobile telecommunications services, a television broadcasting link, a microwave backup service, and providing data links via optical fibre connection to Barcelona's metropolitan digital ring connecting the four Olympic areas.

The use of telecommunications during the event itself was unprecedented. Barcelona's newly modernized and digitized telephone system had to deal with as many as 30,000 calls an hour. Around 70,000 telephone calls were made each day by the press contingent alone, and journalists also had access to telephones capable of transmitting voice, data and images (telephotos). To cope with the number of visitors to the Games, the city was obliged to increase the number of public telephones by over 42 per cent, and mobile phone technology was in widespread use throughout the event.

Television signals were carried via an optical fibre network 150km long, capable of carrying many simultaneous signals to around 11,000 terminals located in the Olympic facilities. CATV systems permitted the viewing of up to 72 signals or channels, allowing television producers to select from a wide variety of images at any one time. Some broadcasters even set up their own Local Area Networks in order to have direct connection to their headquarters back home. The INTELSAT and EUTELSAT satellite systems were used to disseminate the television feeds.

The new High Definition television (HDTV) systems were also tested at the Barcelona Games. Under the Vision 1250 project, a collaboration between a group of large European equipment suppliers and the European Broadcasting Union, 12 hours of live and recorded programming using HDTV was produced each day.

The 'informatization' of the Olympic Games will continue at an advanced pace in Atlanta. Mobile telephony, high speed data networks, the Internet, multi-media systems - all will be deployed to maximum advantage. As with the first radio coverage of the Games in 1924, and the first worldwide television coverage, in 1964, the emerging on-line and multi-media systems promise to change forever the way we watch the world's greatest sporting event. The Games will evolve into an interactive event, where viewers will no longer be the passive recipients of information, but will be able to actively select the kind of information they want, when they want it.

Through the principle of Olympic universalism, the IOC aims to ensure the everyone in the world has access to the same quality of Olympic information and programming, regardless of their location. While this goal remains as yet unrealized, the new systems of the Information Age offer a great opportunity to spread the Olympic message to more people, more effectively, than ever before.
Equipment used at the Barcelona Olympics

Technology Quantity
Private telephones 10 000
Public telephones 1 000
Standard telephones 2 000
Fax terminals 617
Ibermic lines 225
TMA terminals 407
Press terminals 3 900
Radio trunking terminals 2 110
Portable transceivers 3 800
Pagers 3 340
Televisions 10 000
Videos 1 200
CCTV camersa 470
Portable terminals for the press 4 000
PS/2-AMIC terminals 1 510
PS/2-SIGO terminals 300
PS/2-CIS terminals 1 050
PS/2-SIR terminals 950
DOCUMENT terminals 605
Office automation computers 715