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Archive for the ‘Public expectation’ 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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Liu Xiang has been forced out of the 110m hurdles at the first hurdle (apologies), due to a leg injury. Round 1 of his event began this morning, and, but not before rumours were fluttering around the Bird’s Nest that he was injured. The crowd were on edge, but when Liu valliently came out for his heat it seemed at first that the fears were in fact unfounded. However Liu’s race ended before it had begun, as at a false start he pulled up unable to clear the first barrier. As the other racers returned to their marks Liu had to admit defeat…

Here is the live text coverage as it happened from the BBC (time is BST = Beijing +7):

0451: This is going to end in tears – Liu Xiang walks out to a rapturous applause, only for a packed stadium to see their tyro pull up holding his Achilles after going through a warm-up sprint. He looks utterly gutted, but he’s only gone and pulled off his tracksuit bottoms – he’s going to run this – he’s only going to run this ruddy race!

0454: This is just horrible – Liu Xiang winces as he sets himself in the blocks, only to pull up after a false start. And that’s it – the white flag has been waved, the defending champion admits defeat and returns to the changing rooms. I don’t think the capacity crowd at the Bird’s Nest have actually understood what has just gone on.

It’s a bit soon to gage the reaction of the Chinese public to this sad, sad news. Bob’s colleagues are stunned, and fairly unwilling to talk about it. Won’t push it!

It’s worth remembering the huge amount of expectation on Liu; the 1# Chinese Olympic dream was to see Liu retain his gold, and he was even compared to Communist hero Lei Feng.

He clearly wanted to run so badly, he must have known that there was no real way that he could compete with his injury, but couldn’t bring himself to pull out until it was literally impossible to continue.

Just to compound a sad morning for Bob, one of Britain’s triple jump stars, and a former classmate of your truly, Nathan Douglas has not reached the qualifying distance for the final. Gutted.

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The familiar site of a huge sporting event with empty seats has struck again in Beijing it seems. Many of the lower profile events – despite being completely sold out! – have failed to draw a full crowd.

Empty Seats In Beijing Cause Concern For Organisers And Dismay For Fans

Empty Seats In Beijing Cause Concern For Organisers And Dismay For Fans

This is really upsetting for fans, particularly those who have not been able to purchase tickets legitimately, but would love to be in these empty seats. Bob is speaking from experience.

The Beijing organisers have said that they will be hiring “cheerleaders” who cheer for both teams to bolster the atmosphere. What a shame. Good job if you can get it though!

Of course this is not the first (or certainly the last) time that this has happened. Bob was is Japan in 2002 for the Football World Cup, where FIFA made a right royal mess out of the ticketing situation, leaving thousands of travelling fans outside half-empty stadia. (What made it worse in Japan was that not all of the matches were even televised locally, as the competition was so low-key!) And Bob has distinct memories of Raphael Nadal and Novak Djokovic walking onto court at Roland Garros to wage war in a semi-final in front of a fashionably later French crowd.

However BOCOG are not FIFA (thank Buddah!) and the enthusiastic Chinese crowds are far from the moody Parisians. One would be forgiven for expecting a full house for every single event, with the level of excitement that the organisers have whipped up in China.

Some people are blaming corporate ticket allocations – fair enough, it is usually these seats that are empty in Football matches, or at Wimbledon. But speaking as someone who knows a number of people in some of the top Olympic sponsors (sorry, can’t name names) this doesn’t appear to be the case. Even they are finding it hard to get hold of the tickets.

So, it is a mystery. But until it is solved, Bob is off to volunteer as a cheerleader… now where to go, the Bird’s Nest, the velodrome…?

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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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Finally the day has come and everybody – with the possible exception of those who have chosen to time such an auspicious date with wedding/child birth – is gearing up for the main event; the Opening Ceremony.

All over Shanghai people have been working half-days, leaving work early to prepare for the evening’s festivities. Bars and clubs have been promoting their venues in anticipation of a big turn out, and lost of people are hosting their own ‘Opening Ceremony Parties’. Mario & Sonic at the Olympics on the Nintendo Wii seems to be a popular themed warm up entertainment.

It’s sure to be a spectacular show (with or without Steven Spielberg!). There is keen anticipation in the air combined with a slight sense of nervousness; the run up to the Games has been slightly fraught and it seems almost inevitable that someone would target the main event tonight. It would  be a great shame if it were spoiled. But an even greater shame would be for the security to count any protest were to overshadow the entire event!

People attending the Olympic qualifying football matches last night were made to wait an hour to enter the stadium because of the high level of security. It is possible that such controls will kill all spirit and atmosphere in Beijing.

What’s more, if there should be a protest, surely most people would like to know, rather than for the whole event to be shrouded in suspicion and cynicism.

Bob has not heard estimates on the anticipated viewing figures but this will surely be one of the biggest TV events going. Every Chinese New Year it is part of the modern tradition in China for families to gather round and watch the special variety show – young and old, it seems that is just what people do. So much has been made of the Olympics nationally that the broadcasting of the Opening Ceremony may well bring people together in a similar way. Who knows how much those advertising spaces are worth!?

Fingers crossed for a spectacular show, and no sour taste afterwards.

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Attending an Olympic Games hosted by China was always going to throw up some interesting challenges for the Taiwanese team, and the China’ Taiwan Affairs office have decided to spice things up. The controversy revolves around the name that Taiwan competes under at the Olympics…

The situation is this: in 1989 China and Taiwan agreed that the latter would be referred to as Zhonghua Taipei (中华台北) which translates as Chinese Taipei. Bob’s understanding is that Zhonghua does mean ‘China’ but is not used to refer to the nation that we know today. This week however “Yang Yi of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office has suggested that Zhongguo Taipei (中国台北) is just as valid as an Olympic designator” (via Shanghaiist). Zhongguo being the name used to refer to modern China, as we know it.

The implication of the change in semantics is probably best put; it’s like changing from ‘Chinese Taipei’ to ‘China’s Taipei’.

This is not the first time that the Chinese Olympic organisers have tried to use the Beijing Games as a PR tool for implying Taiwan’s belonging to the mainland. When organising the (fated) Olympic torch relay an invitation was extended to Taiwan: the Taiwanese were very happy to be part of the international leg, which passed through London and Paris along it’s way, but were less pleased to find out that they had been scheduled between Hong Kong and Macao as part of the domestic route (which also climbed Everest and ghosted through Xinjiang). Funnily enough Taiwan refused.

These stunts are clearly lined up to reinforce the official Party line in China that Taiwan is part of the same country. This is an opinion held very strongly within the general population, who will often express a deep wish that Taiwan would ‘come back to its family’. Bob is unsure of who the PR machine is trying to convince; the Chinese population who are already on side, or the ignorant international community, many of whom may not know what Taiwan’s status is.

Bob is not unfamiliar with the complicated way in which the Chinese view Taiwan; a couple of stories come to mind from teaching in China. The first being a polite scolding from a politically aware colleague that we had better go back to Google images to find a different map of China (one that included Taiwan!).

Map of China WITH Taiwan

Map of China WITH Taiwan

Map of China WITHOUT Taiwan

Map of China WITHOUT Taiwan

The second event being a discussion of landmarks which turned to the subject of the world’s tallest buildings. The students seemed puzzled when Bob suggested that indeed China was already home to the world’s tallest building. “No” they said, “that will be in Shanghai, but it’s not finished yet”. A little confused and cautious of what to say Bob pointed out that Taip – ei was home to the current tallest skyscraper and so of course it was Chinese. At this point the students also seemed confused at whether the tower was in fact Chinese; perhaps it was a Zhonghua tower, but not a Zhongguo tower?

World's Tallest Tower in Taiwan (China?)

World's Tallest Tower in Taiwan (China?)

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This week the Boston Globe has a collection of photos from various anti-terrorism exercises and demonstrations (thanks to Rachel for pointing this out). A number of these come from “a week-long series of anti-terrorist drills called “Great Wall 5″, in preparation for the upcoming 2008 Olympic Games”, so the Globe claims.

Although this may just be an excuse to put images of the Chinese military in the western press, it is a very striking collection of pictures. This does not appear to be another case of the media pulling out misleading images to portray its own story – as was picked up by the Chinese bloggers at anti-cnn.com – as most images are sources from the Chinese press and come with detailed explanations of where and when the were taken.

Here are a few to feast your eyes on:

Chinese Paramilitary Olympic Preparations

Chinese Paramilitary Olympic Preparations

Chinese Paramilitary Olympic Display

Chinese Paramilitary Olympic Display

Chinese Armed Anti-Terrorism Police In Preparations For The Olympics

Chinese Armed Anti-Terrorism Police In Preparations For The Olympics

And finally a picture that tells a thousand stories, taken in Xinjiang during the Olympic torch relay through the capital Urumqi that was commented on here for the high levels of security.

Chinese Police Presence In Urumqi For The Xinjiang Leg Of The Torch Relay

Chinese Police Presence In Urumqi For The Xinjiang Leg Of The Torch Relay

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