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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 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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On his blog BBC Beijing correspondent James Reynolds has carried out an impromptue and “unscientific” poll to find the “top 10 Chinese people you should know about“.

Made up from contributions from readers the list includes three Olympians (past & present). Liu Xiang and Yao Ming, readers should all be familiar with, but another name may be less recognisable outside of China; Li Ning.

Li Ning won three gold medals in the 1984 Olympic Games as a gymnast. Impressive in itself, but his inclusion in this hit list is due to his entrepreneurial success with his own sports brand. Visitors to China – particularly anyone who has taught in China – should be familiar with the Li Ning ‘squiggle’ logo (in the background of the image below).

Li Ning Olympic Athlete and Businessman

The rest of the top 10 were, Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao, Yuan Longping, Yang Liwei, Zhang Ziyi, Li Jiacheng and Zhang Yimou.

Investigate the full list for yourself; obvious ommissions may include Ang Li, Jackie Chan and Jay Chou. Two years ago Jay Chou was certainly the biggest celeb going and a huge part of Chinese popular culture, and Bob’s students certainly regarded him as Chinese. In fact there does seem to be a bit of favouritism to mainland stars here… hoping to avoid debate over who is and is not Chinese perhaps?

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The Shanghaiist has come up trumps this weekend with a showcase of over a dozen songs to have been shortlisted for the honour of the official Beijing Olympics theme song.

The songs come from some of the creme de la creme of the Chinese pop world, including Andy Lau (Andy Liu), S.H.E. and numerous participants past and present from the ‘Super Girls‘ TV contest (Chinese versions of Pop Idol/American Idol).

The videos are interesting; they seem to feature the whole A to Z of Olympic sports, from archery to fencing to shooting to volley ball (ok, A to V). Interestingly Andy Lau and Han Hong & Yu Quan have opted to feature paralympic stories – as has been discussed here before disability is not a particularly open topic in China. A cynic may suggest this is for commercial reasons, but Bob would never be so unkind.

The Beijing Olympics Blog would like to put it’s considerable weight behind it’s favourite song; Fly together 一起飞 by Tan Jing (谭晶) and Yan Wei Wen (阎维文) (above). Bob is at risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy by choosing this tune – one of the more old-fashioned efforts featuring less fashionable artists – but in defence it is the most rousing of the songs, and features some nice shots of Beijing landmarks in the video. A close second is I’m a Star by Emil Chau for the shameless use of cute children. Olympic sponsors Coca-cola have been busy again, heavily branding the star-studded entry from Hong Kong artists S.H.E, Wil Pan andJacky Cheung.

Let’s hope the selectors choose wisely, as we will all be hearing the winning song an awful lot this summer!

The Shanghaiist also included the song Welcome to Beijing (above), released to mark the 100 day countdown to the start of the Biejing Olympics.

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Pressure is rising on the corporate sponsors of the Beijing Olympics. This week campaign group Dream for Darfur released their second school-style report on the activities of the 19 Olympic sponsors – 16 of whome have received a D or a ‘Fail’.

Beijing_Olympic_Sponsors

Campaigners have been demanding that sponsors of the “Genocide Olympics” exercise some corporate social responsibility, and their argument was particularly strengthened when Steven Spielberg stepped down from his association with the Games. This report highlights their responses, with a particular stress on the conflict in Darfur.

The Economist discusses this trend in corporate social responsibility; “As the row over corporate sponsorship of the Beijing Olympics shows, firms are increasingly expected to take a lead in promoting human rights”

Top of the class were Adidas and Kodak. The exec summary is :

• Kodak and Adidas each received a B+ for writing the UN and allowing those letters to be
made public, among other actions. We commend them.
• McDonald’s received a C+ for taking a private action, of which it showed evidence to our
campaign.
• General Electric and The Coca-Cola Company received a D. Neither took action in regard
to bringing security to Darfur; their grades reflect what appeared to be significant concern with
the issue and an effort (unsuccessful) to take an action. Rather than take action about Darfur,
Coca-Cola took aim at the Dream for Darfur campaign.
• Johnson & Johnson, Lenovo, Microsoft, Samsung and Visa received a D-. These
companies received a grade slightly higher than outright failure because they met with our
campaign. Notably, Samsung sent two executives to New York from South Korea for a
meeting with us.
• Nine of the remaining sponsors received Fs for a poor response or none at all. They
include: Anheuser-Busch, Atos Origin, BHP Billiton, Manulife, Panasonic, Staples,
Swatch, and Volkswagen. UPS, although it made a sizable contribution to humanitarian aid in
Darfur, did not advance our goals.

Read more here.

As the economist point out, this is a relatively new trend in demanding responsible behaviour of brands. In many cases these days large corporations are more fearful for their image than governments, and this strategy may prove more fruitful to campaigners than lobbying governments.

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