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Sydney Games likely to set viewer record

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The Sydney Olympics are expected to break a record by reaching about 3.7 billion viewers.

Projections by the International Olympic Committee say enthusiasm is highest in Japan — which played host to the 1998 Winter Games — with 88 percent of people questioned saying they are "very" or "somewhat" interested in watching the Olympics on television, an IOC-commissioned poll found.

The survey, released Thursday, said 81 percent of those questioned in South Korea professed interest, followed by 80 percent in Ireland, Finland and Lithuania, and 79 percent in China and Greece. In Australia, the figure is 78 percent, and it's 72 percent in the United States.

The sale of broadcast rights for the Sydney Games, which begin Sept. 15, is due to earn the Olympic movement $1.3 billion, including $705 million paid by NBC for rights in the United States.

IOC marketing director Michael Payne described the figures as "phenomenal," and they are expected to rise as the Games' Sept. 15 start nears.

With an interest rating of just 41 percent, Portugal ranked last in the survey, conducted by the public opinion research firm Ipsos-Reid. No African or Middle Eastern nations were represented in the poll of 39 countries, and no margin of error was given.

The Atlanta Games reached an estimated 3 billion people. The IOC said its projection for an increase was due to a rise in the number of people with access to television and in the number of broadcasters covering the event.