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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 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.

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As the rain poured down in Beijing on Thursday it seemed like a good opportunity to stay in and catch up on some blogging – unfortunately Bob’s internet connection disagreed, and would not allow this post. Trying again now, on Friday. It has been difficult to fit in posts, around ticket-hunting, sport-watching, exploring Beijing and accessing WordPress. It has been hard enough just to keep up with the rapid flow of British gold medals that just seem to keep coming! Fair play to the folks at the BBC live text commentary, who keep Bob up to date with what’s going on; it can’t be an easy job being a journo out here. However, a dedicated press centre, access to BBC TV and not having to run around looking for affordable tickets must help a bit.

Bob has been fortuitous enough to see two British golds, a silver and a bronze, and that is without even making it as far as Qingdao for the sailing or Shunyi for the rowing.

On Sunday night Bob and friends were the beneficiaries of four top-grade seats in the National Indoor arena to watch gymnastics. Coincidentally this was the day in which the only male British gymnast to make it to a final was performing. The event was the pommel horse, and the man was Louis Smith. With gymnastics it is hard sometimes for the lay-person to know when someone has done well or not, but along with the American competitor Smith’s routine was identifiable for its individuality. To see the first gymnastics medal for a British male in 80 years was thrilling!

The velodrome has been the source of 7 of Team GB’s golds, and was top of Bob’s ticket wish-list. Saturday afternoon was spent fruitlessly waiting outside, in the far western suburb of Laoshan, and things did not look promising, until finally persistence paid off with tickets for Monday. It was well worth the graft to see Chris Hoy, Jamie Staff and Victoria Pendleton in dominating form, and on top of that to see the Men’s team pursuit win gold in another world record time! Alas, we had to leave before we could hear the anthem as we had an appointment in the Bird’s Nest.

We needn’t have worried, ‘God Save The Queen’ is getting regular airtime in Beijing this month, and sure enough Bob was present in the Bird’s Nest on Tuesday night to join Christine Ohuruogu in belting it out. All of this success really seems to have awoken a sense of nationalism in Bob – not normally one to carry a Union Jack or swell with pride at the strains of the anthem. Bob can’t help but wonder if it has had the same impact back home – is it great to be British at the moment?

Ohuruogu’s gold was all the more exciting because of the way it was won. Starting just below Bob (as the commentators might have described it), American pre-race favourite Sanya Richards flew off into an early lead, leaving Christine down in 6th or 7th. However, 24-year-old Brit showed amazing self-confidence and experience, giving herself a lot to do down the home straight, but with enough in the tank with which to do it. For the final 50 meters the rest of the field appeared to be running backwards while Ohuruogu powered on slaying one after the other with enough time to spare to win by a clear margin. Brilliance, pure brilliance. The volunteers in the stand nearby appeared to be infected by the excitement too and congratulated Bob so many times it was as if they believed he has run the circuit below.

Although overshadowed by the 400m gold, Germain Mason’s high jump silver medal was an even more unexpected addition to the tally, and an equally impressive performance. The man beat his personal best, only to be bettered by Andre Silnov who is quite simply in a league of his own anyway. Roger Black’s comments about racing for silver when competing in the same race as Michael Johnson come to mind, and in this case Mason stepped up to the plate when it mattered.

Bob also followed the trail to the BMX track this morning to watch Shanaze Reade. Supremely powerful Shanaze lived up to her billing in the semi-finals blowing away much of the competition. But her third fall in six races on the spectacular Chinese track came on the final bend in the final race and cost her a medal. Shanaze was sitting in second place, and crashed in an overtaking manoeuvre, risking a guaranteed silver for a possible gold. This is the first time Shanaze has been beaten all year, and she looked not only physically hurt (possible broken hand) but mentally crushed. No hear though, she will certainly be back, and could be great. Really great!

(Pictures will follow, but the connection to WordPress is just too slow at the moment…)

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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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Bob is delighted to be writing the Beijing Olympics Blog from China; admittedly not Beijing, but one step at a time. Unfortunately getting here has meant that it’s been a quiet time on the blog recently just the media has been full of enough Olympic news to satisfy the most eager observe. Bob would like to share responsibility for the lack of posts with KLM who run a very relaxed corporate policy towards punctuality, and the Chinese government who have an equally vigilant policy of internet censorship.

Beijing Olympic Volunteers in Shanghai

Beijing Olympic Volunteers in Shanghai

You may notice a difference in the coverage of the Beijing Olympics Blog as Bob hopes to provide a more personal experience of the Olympics, as the mainstream press are sure to be full of any and every Beijing story going.

Bob was pleased to be greeted at Shanghai’s Pudong Airport by a host of young and eager volunteers sitting underneath a Beijing 2008 banner and wearing matching uniforms.

“Do you have information about the Olympics?”

“No, sorry.”

“Oh, do you have information about the Olympic football in Shanghai?”

“No, we just have information about Shanghai.”

“Or how to get to Beijing from Shanghai?”

“No, just Shanghai.”

Still, they did have lots of information about Shanghai!

For the record, although a lot of news coverage appears to have been given to the government’s relaxation of censorship on parts of the web – including the BBC, certain Amnesty sites and content about the 1989 Tian’anmen Square incident – they have not unblocked WordPress. This will probably be enough to appease the IOC who had demanded that the Great Firewall of China be lowered for the Games. This has made accessing and updating the Beijing Olympics Blog quite difficult, and of course it is extremely frustrating that hardly anyone in the mainland will be able to read it. The next update will come as soon as possible, all things considered J

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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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The Lost Ring is a brand new ARG (which apparently stands for Alternative Reality Game) centred around the Beijing Olympics and jointly sponsored by the IOC and one of the 2008 Games’ official partners.

Bob is no expert in ARG’s and was informed about The Lost Ring by a colleague (thanks Liz), so decided to do some research. According to Liz:

“The internet is aflutter with rumours about a new alternate reality game…The Lost Ring began last week [Bob has a feeling this may be a little out of date], when certain gamers received a package in the post with a web address hidden in a ball of string.”

Intriguing…

Upon visiting the site – www.TheLostRing.com – you are shown a fantastic fantasy video (think Lord of the Rings meets ancient Greece) that sets a dramatic scene but gives few answers…

…so on a mission to find out more Bob found a post on Global voices which lead to the Virtual China blog, which happens to have an excellent introduction to the Game courtesy of Lyn Jeffery.

The Game is centred around eight main characters from China, Japan, Germany, Spain, US, UK, Brazil and France and the big idea is collaboration. These characters have super powers and mysterious pasts and are ‘played’ in real time online so that other players can interact with them – see their profile pages here.

So far there are apparently 15,000 people playing in China alone. According to Lyn:

“The game is designed to be impossible to make serious progress in unless you can figure out how to be part of a collective… It is fascinating to watch how this kind of highly emergent, non-rules-based, collaborative game is diffusing into China. In China, where this kind of gaming doesn’t exist, it’s hasn’t been so easy to engage a distributed community and link it up to a global community of players who mostly don’t speak Chinese.”

A number of issues face Chinese players, including language (much of the content is user generated, and so not necessarily provided in Chinese) cultural (Chinese gamers aren’t used to this kind of collaboration) and political (the Great Firewall prevents access to some resources that the players use, including The Lost Ring’s very own wiki). However Lyn observes:

“What seems to be happening, however, is that the translation problem is becoming a feature of the game, not a bug, which is perfect.  The community is self-organizing to deal with the communication problems, which appear to be most acute with the Chinese language materials.”

So it looks as if this by-product of the Olympics is building bridges of communication between the people of all countries, and particularly between them and Chinese people. That can only be a good thing.

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