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This is one of the final posts on the Beijing Olympics Blog – the experiment is coming to an end, and to be honest, since getting back from China Bob has found it hard to summon up the time and enthusiasm to keep posting. To sign off it’s time to review the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics, identify lessons to be learnt for London 2012, and on a personal level to review the blogging experiment.

So, lessons for London 2012.

Don’t over-price

Despite the attention on empty seats and ticket touts it certainly seemed to Bob that most events were well attended by Chinese fans who were thrilled to be there. Bob watch Christine Ohuruogu win the 400m gold sat high in the stands next to a man from rural Shanxi province who had bought just one ticket and was determined to enjoy the night. The lack of Chinese athletes did not dampen his spirits, but prompted him to join Bob in cheering anyone British. He even had a stab at ‘God Save The Queen’!

Don’t over-price tickets in London, make international sport accessible for all.

Don’t get too obsessed by the medals table

This is something that the Beijing organisers were guilty of. There has been a great recognition of the advancement of Chinese elite sport leading up to the Olympics, and while this will undoubtedly inspire uptake of sport across the country most reports suggest that grass roots sport has not been promoted (see China Review 43 page 18. London 2012 should be able improving sports access in the UK, and the medal success should be a reflection of that, not a priority over it.

Some of the most controversial events in Beijing were related to poor judging and ineligible athletes in sports where it seemed the Chinese team were desperate to contribute to the country’s medal tally. The pressure on the people involved undermined the sporting achievements.

Let people gather

People who have attended both the Sydney and Beijing Olympics tend to agree on one thing; the atmosphere within the host city was better in the 2000 Games. This has a lot to do with the lack of spaces for fans from different countries to gather an celebrate in Beijing. Big screens were few and far between, sponsored events in the city were rare, and people without tickets were not allowed within the vicinity of the stadia. Understandably the Chinese authorities are not keen on large gatherings of people in Beijing, and this inhibited the Olympic spirit in Beijing.

Not everyone who attends the London Olympics will be able to get tickets for their favourite events but there is more to the Olympics than that. The London organisers should put together as many events as possible. Most essential of all: sites with big screens around the city where people can gather. Although London will probably have more security concerns than Beijing, there are alternatives to restricting freedoms.

Free transport for ticket-holders

Another of the success stories from the Beijing Games was the free transport. It’s not so much about saving money, but about making visitors feel welcome and facilitating a great experience. London’s transport is expensive, and this is a must for 2012.

Enable resale of tickets

Another of the many things the Chinese organisers did right was to turn a blind eye to ticket resale. Without this there would have been more empty seats, more disgruntled visitors, and less atmosphere in the stadia. However, Bob has no sympathy for ticket touts, who inflate the price of events, make it harder for real fans to get tickets legitimately and cream off profit without doing anything to earn it. Instead the London 2012 organisers must facilitate ticket resale and exchange at face value. A dedicated website and amnesty zones around the city should be set up to allow unwanted tickets to be passed on fairly.

Refreshments – not just a chance to make a buck

Sporting events have a tendency of serving terrible food for equally unpalatable prices, so it was refreshing in Beijing that the mark up was minimal (even if the food was still awful). London is an expensive place as it is, and there is a chance visitors will feel like money is being wrung out of them if food and drinks aren’t affordable.

In London the refreshments should be a chance to show-case good, healthy, local, and affordable delights. London can break the mould and make eating and drinking part of the experience rather than an unavoidable necessity for visitors. At least more choice than just McDonald’s!

Put in place prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and due to end roughly a month after the Paralympics, the measures to afford greater independence to foreign reporters in China are about three weeks from ending. Now there is speculation about whether these freedoms will continue at all, or whether the rules will return to pre-Olympic levels.

Tim Johnson summarises the situation…

If the old rules come back into play, this is what it means:

  • Reporters will be required again to seek advance permission from the Foreign Ministry for any trip outside of their base, such as Beijing.
  • And reporters will no longer be free to interview anyone who agrees to an interview request. Rather, interviews must be vetted by authorities.

Johnson’s article reveals a lot, including a statement from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China:

“The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China urges the government to build an Olympic legacy by enshrining the pledge of openness in new rules for foreign correspondents.

“In keeping with China’s efforts to become a more open society, we urge the government to recognize in the new regulations for foreign correspondents that the free flow of information is crucial to the proper functioning of the globalized world.”

The authorities are being typically pragmatic on the matter, acknowledging the situation in an official statement without committing to any particular policy.

Johnson and Imagethief (Will Moss) are not that optimistic:

[Moss] Personally Imagethief feels that the Olympic honeymoon is now over. The downside is that I expect the reporting rules to be allowed to lapse and the air to once again silt up with grunge. The upside is that all the things that were tightened for the Olympics –visas, various petty registration requirements, limits on where you can and can’t hike/film/run/walk/drip ice cream– will relax.

[Johnson] Less than a month from now, we will find out if China will maintain its attitude of greater openness with the foreign media. My bet is that it won’t.

Bob is inclined to follow such opinions. The Chinese government are particularly adept at controlled interpretation of their own laws – a key to their ability to maintain stability and control. We will now head back into a time of more ambiguity (which as Imagethief points out, isn’t all bad), allowing the authorities to stamp out particular news stories, but to allow other infringements passed.

But will the Olympics have a legacy in reporting freedoms for foreign and local journalists…? Much like the official discussion of this topic, that question is rhetorical; it is not for Bob to say, but any legacy is certainly not as profound as the IOC may have foreseen.

Paralympics Closing Ceremony

Paralympics Closing Ceremony

The Beijing Paralympics wrapped up yesterday with yet another spectacular ceremony at the wonderful Bird’s Nest stadium giving delirious athletes a chance to say goodbye after an extremely successful Games. Sounds like a similar story to four weeks ago when the Olympics ended on a high – we were even treated to another show of gormless flag waving from an open-suited Mayor of London.

Unfortunately Bob has been awol for the last three weeks and has not been able to continue regular blogging throughout the Paralympics, and this is not an attempt to brush it under the carpet as ‘similar to the Olympics'; reviews of the Paralympics will follow. Bob has been keeping up with the news from Beijing, but upon returning to work in London has suffered from excess of work and shortage of post-Beijing motivation, both of which have stifled blogging.

As the Paralympic athletes return to their respective homes there do seem to be a number of parallels with the Olympics:

  • The organisers will be breathing a sigh of relief after another almost trouble-free event. They have been widely congratulated by athletes, officials and observers alike (and are not afraid of exhibiting this in the Chinese media)
  • The ceremonies have been grand and spectacular
  • The volunteers have been lauded and celebrated for their enthusiasm and sheer number

    Volunteers at the 2008 Olympics at Shanghai Stadium

    Volunteers at the 2008 Olympics at Shanghai Stadium

  • China have topped the medal table
  • The British team are celebrating an extraordinary performance (although the athletics has been a disappointment)
  • Questions are being asked about how London will measure up to Beijing
  • Despite fantastic organisation, comments have been made about Beijing’s lack of atmosphere and ‘fun’

Over the next two weeks Bob will discuss the Paralympics, the aftermath of both events in Beijing 2008, the implications for China, and the lessons for London in 2012. Then the Beijing Olympics Blog will be wrapped up for good, and some new chapters will be opened.

Bye Bye Beijing

The Olympics are over, and most of the athletes have returned home to be paraded in front of adoring crowds. Now it is Bob’s turn to do the same (minus the crowds), back in Shanghai again now and the UK tomorrow.

However this is not the end of the events in Beijing, or the Beijing Olympics Blog – the 2008 Paralympics will kick off in a matter of days (unfortunately Bob’s 30 day visa does not allow for this to be covered as well), and there is still plenty to digest from the summer, so watch this space.

It’s been another wonderful trip to China – many thanks to everyone who has helped to make it so; friends and colleagues, former students and volunteers, landlords, shop keepers and taxi drivers.

It has certainly been a successful Olympics (as CCTV constantly reminds us), for which the organisers must be commended. The stadia and facilities have been immense, the volunteers have shone and the organisers have mixed security with convenience to ensure everything has worked smoothly and they have largely escaped criticism.

Well organised does not always mean fun, however. And this is one thing that Beijing could have delivered more of. Within the stadiums the atmosphere has mostly been superb, but outside the enthusiasm has been dispersed and diluted in the vastness of Beijing.

The wide roads and large buildings in Beijing can be disorienting, and can give you the impression of an echo, bouncing around in a void. It lacks the local environments which can stimulate spontaneity and excitement. London has these spaces in abundance, as does Shanghai these days, so for this Bob is less sad about leaving Beijing. The ability to create a great atmosphere and spaces for fans, athletes and locals to unite will be key for London if they hope to host a successful Olympics (much as Sydney managed).

Anyway, more on the pro’s and con’s of the Beijing Games, and what London will need to do later…

Queuing up to pass through one of the many security check points at the Olympics on one occasion there was a recording being played over the PA system: “Flags of non-participating countries and regions, and sharp objects are not permitted into the Olympic Green”.

At first this seemed like a strange combination – why should sporting Scott or a crowd of Québécois not be allowed to bear their own banners, even if athletes don’t compete under these names? Then an idea quickly dawned. There is a region/nation whose flag is particularly feared by the Beijing Olympic organisers; Tibet.

Bob is not aware of whether this is a new Olympic rule, specific to Beijing, or whether this is customary at every Games. Perhaps those better informed can comment?

Now, the Olympics is one of the few global sporting occasions, it seems, when British athletes do compete under the same banner, and not as the representative countries (which is why Team GB don’t submit a football team to the Games). Personally, this makes it particularly special, and Bob celebrates the opportunity (as an Englishman) to stand alongside Welsh, Scotts and Nothern Irish in support of one team. It is nice to spot a Union Jack in the crowd, but there would be nothing wrong with seeing it flutter next to the Welsh dragon, or Saint Andrew’s Cross.

Bob was considering putting the ruling to the test, and boldly walking up to the gate with the flag of St George tucked under one arm, but then passed a man robed in one casually strolling through the Olympic Green on Saturday 23rd. He did not appear to be hiding his illegal flag from the security.

On the face of it this appears to be a rule with Chinese nationalism in mind, masked as a standard Olympic security condition. Or perhaps that is an over-reaction?

The latest controversy associated with the Chinese government and the Beijing Olympics has been to do with the age of their gymnasts, and specifically gold medal-winning He Kexin (何可欣). Allegations have suggested that Miss He was born in 1994, meaning that she is too young to compete in the Olympics (16 years or older), while her registration for the Olympics states that she was born in 1992.

This argument has again been spun into a battle between the ‘anti-Chinese western media’ and the ‘government mouth-piece Chinese media’.

So where did the allogations come from?

The earliest record of the allegations Bob has found is in the NYT on 27th July. Here the NYT references previous reports within official Chinese press stating He’s age as 13 in 2007 and 14 in 2008. The article also refers to official documents found online.

This is where it gets interesting…

A blogger, and online security expert known as Stryde (or Mike Walker if you’re being formal) on hearing the allegations decided to conduct a little test to see what documents could be found using search engines.

Searching on Google for cached files using the fields (site:cn 何可欣 filetype:xls 1994) Stryde found that He’s name had been removed from the one resulting file. So he tried the same trick on Baidu:

In the Baidu cache, which apparently has not been hit with the scrub brush (yet), two spreadsheets published by the Chinese government on sport.gov.cn both list He Kexin’s birthday as 01-01-1994, making her 14 years old. For as long as these links work, you can access the documents directly, either using the directions and screenshots above, or these links: cache1 cache2″

Now, these documents are not conclusive proof that He Kexin was born is 1994 (as Stryde himself acknowledges). They may be mistakes, or perhaps it is even possible that someone has hacked in and amended these (though as this comes from a Chinese government site, these options do seem unlikely).

However this has been deemed enough evidence for the IOC to call for further investigation.

The official government’s response has been to blame the mistake on a paper-work error when He transferred from one city team to another last year. Although this does not really explain why the domestic media had believed her date of birth was in 1994.

This subject has been touched upon briefly on CCTV 9 (the English language station), which in itself is a positive thing. But there has been no debate, with the simple notion that as the authorities have now provided He’s passport.

This doesn’t really wash – the idea of a school child writing their own sick note after skipping school for a couple of days without their parent’s knowledge, springs to mind.

It’s a shame that this should come after such a successful Olympics, whether or not it is true. However, it won’t dampen the spirits in China. Most will be happy with the official response, and those that Bob has spoken to who don’t believe He is 16, don’t really care. “Oh no, she is not 16” said a colleague, “but do you know what? Chen Ruolin (陈若琳), a diver, is even younger!”

Updated

Bob has subsequently realised that actually whether or not Chen Ruolin is 16 or not is fairly irrelevant judging by the fact the British diving star Tom Daley is only 14. Obviously different rules apply in diving.

Much has been made of the scarcity of tickets in Beijing and yet in the first week there was a pandemic of half-empty stadia spreading the city. The government have been publicising their active work to shut down ticket touts and prevent illegal re-sale of official tickets. However, this is typical PR and bluff promoted through state-run media, and actually part of the reason for stadium seats being filled has been the relatively free and open re-selling taking place.

The fact is that a large number of tickets were bought early by Chinese people when Olympic ticket fever was as its peak. Now many of these people are realising that they’re not very fussed about watching an under 23’s football match, or Lycra-clad cyclists race in circles. Of course there are also people who have last minute changes of plan, or fail to find friends to join them. As a result there appear to be a decent amount of tickets ‘going spare’, and Bob has been one of the grateful recipients. So far Bob has acquired 9 tickets from a range of different sources, and has paid little over face value on average. So here is some advice (though alas it comes rather late in the day – again, blame the oft mentioned access limitations to WordPress in China).

First piece of advice, check out an article named Cheap Olympic Tickets and the Running of the Yellow Bulls from Ben, who has had even more success than Bob. Ben’s tips are:

-Pick an event and show up at the venue an hour early.

-Arrive at the event knowing you may be walking around aimlessly for the next hour or two scavenging for a ticket. Patience is a must.

-Be aware that there is probably a 15% chance you will not get in to the event at all. This chance goes up exponentially if the event happens to have an athlete named Kobe Bryant, Yao Ming, Michael Phelps, or Liu Xiang who will be competing that day.

-Find an area near one of the gates where spectators who have just arrived are walking in.

-If you see more than one yellow bull in the vicinity, find a new location.

-Know the price of a face value ticket, and have the money (exact change) in hand ready to pay. On one instance, I had made a deal for face value water polo tickets for a friend and me. As I was fishing the money out of my wallet, a yellow bull swooped in and outbid me for the tickets.

-Approach people heading towards the venue, and politely ask them if they have an extra ticket to sell. It doesn’t hurt to emphasize the fact that you actually want to see the event, and aren’t just going to turn around and re-sell it. Several of the tickets I have bought have been from people who specifically did not want their tickets to get into the hands of yellow bulls.

-If the event has already started and you still don’t have a ticket, don’t panic. The people with extra tickets are in an even bigger pickle than you are. This is prime time for people to be dumping off cheap extras. From the minute the competition starts, the value of tickets drops rapidly.

-This entire process is much, much easier if you are willing to go to events alone as opposed to in pairs or groups. Olympic tickets were originally sold in pairs, but finding someone with two extras is considerably more difficult than finding a single. Finding three or more tickets seated together is virtually impossible. For some more low-demand events (i.e. baseball and beach volleyball) you can usually sit wherever you want once you enter the stadium. These are good events to go to if you want to go in a group.

Bob’s experiences match Ben’s (Bob and Ben, what a pair!) and this certainly seems like sound advice.

For anyone looking for the touts (Huang Niu, 黄牛), Beitucheng Metro Station, at the entrance to the Olympic Green is the place to go. They have been there in force for weeks, and don’t even appear to have been put off by recent police warning signs that have been put up. Beware though, the asking prices are ridiculous so be prepared to barter hard or be ripped off.

The hypocrisy of the official statements of cracking down on illegal ticket sales is exemplified by the fact that this unofficial home for ticket re-sale is at the transfer station for all visitors entering the Olympic Green by metro, and is taking place in front of a bemused stall of Olympic Volunteers.

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