SCMP Monday, July 9, 2001
Beijing's team begins final Olympics push
MARK O'NEILL in Beijing and AGENCIES
The team that will make Beijing's final pitch for the 2008 Olympic Games has arrived in Moscow, leaving behind 12 million citizens convinced they will win this time.
Led by Beijing Mayor Liu Qi, the team will be hoping to exorcise the demons of eight years ago, when Beijing lost the 2000 Olympics to Sydney by just two votes.
They arrived in the Russian capital just before midnight on Saturday. The full assembly of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will vote on Friday to choose the host city from Beijing, Toronto, Paris, Istanbul and Osaka.
Vice-Premier Li Lanqing will join the team later as the leader of Beijing's delegation. Speaking on his arrival, Mr Liu said the team was "full of confidence".
His sentiments were echoed by Wang Wei, secretary of the Beijing bid committee. However, he added: "We've got to be careful to make a good presentation, [and create] a good image of Beijing, of China, in front of the IOC people, in front of the international community."
Before the vote, each of the five competing cities will make a final hour-long presentation. The IOC, which opens other meetings today in Moscow, will also elect a successor to its president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, who is stepping down after 21 years in charge. Belgian surgeon Jacques Rogge is favourite to succeed him.
Beijing remains the hot favourite to win the 2008 Games, with its main rivals Paris and Toronto. Istanbul in Turkey and Japan's Osaka are considered outsiders.
In 1993, Beijing was devastated when it lost to Sydney. Despite continuing criticism of China's human rights record, many IOC members believe the time has come to take the Olympics to the world's most populous country.
British IOC member Craig Reedie summed up the choice. "The decision you have to make is: do you take the Games to the capital of the country with a fourth of the world's population on grounds that it will help changes in Chinese society? Or do you believe a vote not to take the Games to China will help the process of change?"
For most of the 12 million people in the Chinese capital, the vote can only go to Beijing.
"I am 90 per cent sure that we will get the Games," said Zhu Guolin, a government official. "After Athens [in 2004], they cannot give the Games to another European city and many US cities want to host the Games in 2012, so Toronto cannot win.
"I estimate that about 70 per cent of the Beijing population will stay up on Friday night for the result. We are very excited."
A commentary in the China News Weekly - a magazine published by China News Service - said that the IOC could not use ideology or finance, the two big shadows hanging over the modern Olympic movement since its foundation 105 years ago, as reasons not to give the Games to Beijing.
It said their influence had dissipated with the end of the Cold War and the lucrative sale of commercial and television rights.
The public's optimism, however, may be based in part on incomplete information. The official media has not informed them of fierce opposition to the bid - such as the European Parliament's decision on Thursday to ask the IOC not to choose China because of its poor record on human, civil and political rights.
IOC members have also been bombarded by e-mails and faxes from human rights activists criticising China's rights violations, especially in Tibet.
"What happens if Beijing loses?" asked one Beijing-based Western diplomat. "There will be a wave of xenophobia. The [Chinese] Government has invested so much political capital that it will need scapegoats. It cannot accept defeat easily or gracefully."