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Archive for the ‘Legacy’ Category

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!

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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.

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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.

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The general concensus appears to be that it was a truely spectacular opening ceremony (and no need to any fears of upset).

Bob watched the whole ceremony with friends, and here are out selection of the top 10 moments:

China's Human Print Press - People Power

China's Human Print Press - People Power

10 – The sea of printing blocks – representing the creation of printing in China – that moved in smooth waves as if computerised, but in fact powered by hundreds of men. A particularly nice touch at the end of the sequence when the men burst out and waved to the elated crowds.

9 – The moment when a group representing China’s different ethnic minorities entered the stadium with the national flag. Or to be more accurate, the moment that they handed over the flag to PLA soldiers – there has to be a metaphore in that!?

Symetry and Harmony - Olympic Drummers Recite Confucius

Symetry and Harmony - Olympic Drummers Recite Confucius

8 – The perfect execution of the mass drumming and recital of Confucius’s words. The synchronicity was astounding; if this is anything to go by expect China to take a clean sweep on synchronised swimming golds.

7 – When, during the procession of athletes, the camera panned to three top tennis players and summarised perfectly their contrasting personalities. Rafael Nada, looking sweaty and pumped; Roger Feder, immaculate; and Andy Murray, scruffy.

6 – Firewords with smiling faces. The country that invented fireworks combines it’s pyrotechnic heritage with the modern popularity of cute emoticons. (Apologies, can’t find a photo of this.)

5 – Team Japan waving both Japanese and Chinese flags. A small act but a big statement. This could potentially have been unpopular back home, but is a bold step in international relations. Who says the Olympics aren’t about politics!?

Olympic Rings - The Light Appeared to Peal From the Floor

Olympic Rings - The Light Appeared to Peal From the Floor

4 – Early on in the ceremony the Olympic rings appeared to be projected onto the stadium floor by spot lights. It was breath-taking then when the five rings rose up from the ground to hover vertically in midair. Goose-pimples!

3 – The moment when Team China entered the stadium and the cowboy boot-wearing cheerleaders stepped up the tempo again, after having been dancing and cheering for over two hours by this stage. Olympic stamina!

2 – Li Ning executes the trademark Zhang Yimou slow-running-in-the-sky torch lighting. The image was straight out of films like Hero and Li Ning executed it perfectly.

1 – The electronic drum countdown. The coordination of the drummers was spectacular enough, and then they took it to another level with the countdown of scrolling numbers from 10 to 0 in both numerical values and Chinese. The biggest the many breath-taking moments of the night.

Beijing Olympic Drummers Count Down Perfectly

Beijing Olympic Drummers Count Down Perfectly

The organisers for London 2012 will have a tough act to follow…

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Guest post by Jordan Hirsch

In mid–March, several days of peaceful demonstrations against Chinese rule exploded into violent rioting in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. On March 17th, as China engaged in the bloodiest period of its crackdown against the protestors, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge circulated an internal memo to IOC officials, outlining a communications strategy. “China’s involvement in Tibet strictly concerns its social and political policy,” Rogge stated in the memo. “It is not related to the country’s hosting of the Games, nor to its relationship with the IOC.” Most importantly, Rogge ruled out any direct IOC involvement either in condemning China’s response or mediating an end to the conflict. The IOC would remain silent.

Will The Olympics Bring Change in China (or Should They)?But certainly the Olympics and politics go hand–in–hand. Countries compete to host the Olympics for obvious political reasons: to kindle national pride, gain international prestige, and stimulate their economies. The kidnapping and murder of eleven Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists in the 1972 Munich Games, and the years of Olympic boycotts from 1976–84 clearly evince the political nature of the Games. And, doubtless, the IOC has made politically driven decisions in selecting host countries. It rejected China’s 1993 bid for the 2000 Games only four years after the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Even the Olympic Charter seems to call for the promotion of liberal political ideals, including “the establishment of a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity,” a rejection of any “discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, sex, or otherwise,” and the use of sport to inculcate “value of peace, justice, mutual understanding, and international friendship.”

When the IOC granted the 1988 Summer Games to South Korea, then under a repressive military dictatorship, critics accused it of once again awarding the Olympics to an authoritarian regime that consistently violated human rights.

The critics were right about South Korea’s authoritarianism, but the Seoul Games ultimately contributed to South Korea’s rapid and largely peaceful transformation to democracy in 1987. Indeed, the Seoul Games seem to demonstrate that the Olympics can help to initiate progressive political change. As the Beijing Olympics approach and world leaders remain at odds over how to respond, then, what lessons can the international community draw from the history of Seoul 1988?

South Korea’s bid for the Olympics in 1980 served a number of political purposes for the ruling regime. The country had enjoyed rapid economic growth in the 1960s and ’70s, yet the prosperity had not brought with it political liberalization. When South Korean President Park Chung–hee was assassinated in 1979, another military junta, led by General Chun Doo–hwan, assumed power and continued the repressive policies. But South Koreans—especially students—vigorously opposed Chun’s new dictatorship, and began protesting at college campuses across the country. In May 1980, as South Korea prepared its Olympic bid, South Korean students and citizens flooded the streets of the city of Kwangju in a massive pro–democracy rally. The government responded with overwhelming force, with opposition leaders declaring that it had killed nearly 2,000 protestors in one week.

With a bloody stain upon its record so early in its political life, the government sought to use the Olympics to enhance its legitimacy at home and abroad.

Once South Korea won its bid for the Games, outside media descended upon the country and gave voice to dissident students and politicians. Taken by surprise and unprepared to confront the empowered opposition, the government buckled under the pressure and began making concessions.

Alongside the media attention, high–level diplomacy by the (nominally non–political) IOC proved to be the other decisive factor. By the spring of 1987, South Korea had arrived at a crucial juncture. The government had suspended debate over constitutional reforms, and the country nearly ground to a halt as South Koreans from all ages and classes united in protest.

IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch made a high profile visit to Seoul to mediate between the two sides. According to historian Richard Pound, Samaranch, a former Spanish diplomat, “had never been shy about injecting himself and the Olympic movement into world events.” Only two days after Samaranch’s visit, the South Korean government made its famous June 29th Declaration, agreeing to all of the opposition’s demands and giving way to the first democratic elections in South Korean history.

Much like South Korea, China has invested heavy political capital in the Games, taking the unprecedented steps of inviting over fifty world leaders to the opening ceremonies and crafting the longest tour of the Olympic torch in history. This is leverage that the international community has over China, especially in light of China’s still unfulfilled promises to expand media freedom.

Yet the differences between China and South Korea remain stark. China, as an incipient superpower, enjoys far larger economic and political clout. Significantly the Chinese regime is far more ideologically entrenched than were the South Korean generals and can invoke a long history of struggle for popular justice and [against] foreign intervention.”

What’s more, despite its success, Samaranch’s intervention in South Korean affairs raises questions about whether the IOC should engage in diplomacy. Under Samaranch’s model, the Olympics might become a vast political spotlight, shipped purposefully to oppressive regimes to bear international pressure upon them and induce economic and political liberalization. Such an agenda–driven Olympics, without any pretense of political abstinence, might provoke a backlash against the Games from non–Western countries and rob the Games of their universal respect—the very element that empowers their potential for moral leadership in the first place.

In advance of the Beijing Games in August, the IOC has focused its energies on maintaining the idea that the Olympics are “hallowed ground” not to be disturbed by geopolitics. Yet the example set by the South Korean Games establishes that the Olympics can, if unevenly, maintain the balance between its inherent contradiction: steering clear of politics, and upholding its principles of struggling against discrimination and promoting peace, justice, and cooperation.

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Few people would argue that China is controversial choice of host country for the 2008 Olympics – something the Chinese government are only too aware of. With high profile protests greeting the Olympic torch’s global relay and rioting in various western provinces by ethnic Tibetans there is a very real threat of unrest spoiling the sporting showcase of the Olympic Games.

However, many believe that the security measures imposed by the authorities in Beijing may actually do more to sour the spectacle themselves. In the first guest post for the Beijing Olympics Blog a friend of Bob’s and a prominent Chinese Studies academic writes that this March tension was high and the atmosphere was poor in Beijing because of the prominent security presence:

I have never known Beijing as tense, the police and military presence as overt and aggressive, and Tiananmen Square as controlled, as it was in March. We had a lot of hassle about bags and searches before going up onto Tiananmen at the end of the Forbidden City visit, which made me wonder if anyone had tried to get up there, or even succeeded, with a Tibetan flag or leaflets, and then when leaving the Forbidden City, we were all funnelled over one marble bridge lined with a dozen armed men all urging us to hurry up – I think they were trying to make sure no-one whipped out a banner or flag under the Mao portrait, and again, it made me wonder if anyone had done just that, or tried to. It must have made an awful impression on first-time visitors, though – they were almost pushing people along over the bridge, even elderly and disabled tourists.
Then as we were walking east on Chang’an Avenue to where we could catch a cab, still at the top of the Square, we passed a middle-aged migrant woman, who looked as if she might have been Tibetan, who was refusing to let two police officers search her bag. They twisted her arms behind her back, threw her on the ground and knelt on her, pulling her by her hair, just eight feet away from half a dozen horrified British students. When they started to let her up, she threw a punch at one of them, so they repeated the performance, and other police came over to move everyone on, so we didn’t find out what, if anything, she had in that bag – she looked to me like the kind of woman who sells maps and postcards on the Square, not that many of them were allowed onto it to do that this year, but I guess she might have looked a bit Tibetan to the police as well, hence the search. All rather horrible, but I’m glad the students saw it.
We went onto the Square the next day, the day before the torch arrived, and the top half was already closed off in preparation. Locals and tourists were heavily outnumbered by police and soldiers, and police cars cruised the Square broadcasting in English and Chinese instructions not to come to the ceremony if you weren’t invited! Not terribly welcoming, then, and a plain-clothes police office filmed me for 50 minutes while I was talking to my students (should have asked him for a copy – it would have made a nice podcast). The Monument to the People’s Heroes was also closed off and had armed sentries posted all over it – I think that’s new since last year.
I can’t see how they’re going to get through the Games without incident, judging by March-April – things like this are bound to be seen by loads of foreign visitors, including the press – which is partly why I want to be there for the start, at least, although of course it’s the only country in the world where whatever happens either won’t be on the evening news at all, or in very particular form.

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Beijing National Stadium

Beijing National Stadium

Beijing is a city reshaped, and the 2008 Olympic Games will leave a lasting impact on the landscape of one of the most historic cities in the world. Coming at a time of huge economic growth and large-scale

rural-urban migration (legitimate and unofficial) the Olympics has come as a spur for adventurous architecture on an ambitious scale.

For an introduction into the new landmarks reinventing Beijing’s identity check out a new interactive guide from NYT (thanks Rusk for pointing this out). Click ‘play audio’ for a succinct analysis of each project.

The Water Cube - Beijing Olympic National Aquatic Centre At Night

The Water Cube - Beijing Olympic National Aquatic Centre At Night

The slide show of the National Aquatic Centre (Water Cube) shows how the beautiful bubbles/cells were generated. One other thing that Bob didn’t know was that there is a water park within the Water Cube that will remain in use after the Olympics – a definite must on the Beijing to do list!

Apart from the Water Cube and the National Stadium – aka the Bird’s Nest – the guide also covers the new Airport terminal, the National Theatre and the CCTV tower.

For more information on the Water Cube and comments from one of the architects of the Bird’s Nest take a look at these past posts.

The Bird's Nest - Beijing's National Stadium

The Bird's Nest - Beijing's National Stadium

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