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Mice Net : February 2010
10 mice.net news OH COME all ye faithful It may be considered sacrilegious to draw comparisons between the Parliament of the World's Religions and the Olympics but in many ways the similarities in running a major world event are obvious. Every five years an international conference of religious leaders and followers from all over the world, representing all faiths, beliefs and creeds, gather to discuss the pressing issues facing our modern world. Originally held in Chicago in 1893 following the World Expo, the Parliament attracted world leaders in an open environment of understanding, harmony and peace (the literal meaning of the word -- parliament, being a safe place for civil discourse.) Revived in 1993 and once again held in Chicago, followed by Cape Town and Barcelona, the modern Parliament has become a feature on the international interfaith calendar drawing worldwide attention with its lasting legacies. While religious followers recognise the value in the dialogue opportunities that the event provides, cities around the world are equally quick to realise the economic impact the conference has on its business tourism. With up to 10,000 delegates expected at the most recent Parliament, it's a highly prized opportunity. Like the Olympics, major cities are asked to bid for the rights to host the Parliament and immediately after the staging of the last Parliament, work begins on the next. Throwing their hat (call that a yarmulke, zucchetto, turban or hijab) into the ring as a contender for the 2009 Parliament is Melbourne, along with Singapore, New Delhi and 14 other cities who were eliminated in the first round. An international delegation from the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions (similar to the IOC) visits each bidding city, closely examining their capabilities, grassroots interfaith, interreligious and multicultural activities, programs and applications. Selection criteria are well defined. Each city must demonstrate its physical ability to hold a major conference. It must have a convention centre capable of staging plenary sessions for 5000 or more delegates. It must have international access by air and it must have an infrastructure robust enough to accommodate numerous simultaneous off site events across the breadth of the city. It must also have sufficient accommodation to temporarily house a variety of delegates. But beyond the usual convention requirements, the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions have further mandatory conditions. The successful host city must also raise sufficient capital from various levels of government, private benefactors, philanthropists and corporates to allow the event to be self funding. All up, about $USD11m. At the offices of the Melbourne Convention & Visitors Bureau, a team of experts including Australian industry professional Janetta Stones works hard to produce a responsive and all-encompassing bid document that ticks all the boxes. The delegation arrives and while Melbourne shows them its wares, including the plans for the yet-to-be-built convention centre at South Wharf, they demonstrate due diligence and assess the city's capabilities. According to the Reverend Dirk Ficca, Executive Director of the Council for a Parliament of The World's Religions (in Olympic terms, Juan Antonio Samaranch), Melbourne was an obvious choice. "Apart from satisfying all the mandatory requirements that we laid down, including the funding requirements, Melbourne clearly demonstrated itself as a city that truly embraces multiculturalism in everyday life. That aspect sat very well with the committee," he said from his office in Chicago. On the provisos that the convention centre would be completed, fully tested and operational, that a body would be established in Melbourne (like SOCOG), and that a commitment from various sources including the federal, state and local governments would MELBOURNE HOSTED THE largest interfaith gathering in the world in December 2009. Kevin Moloney reports on how Melbourne secured the event, and the work that went on behind the scenes to make it a success. STORY BY KEVIN MOLONEY -- to melbourne PHOTOS BY RAY MESSNER - WWW.RAYMESSNER.COM