SCMP Tuesday, July 10, 2001

Bring Games home to Asia


The key moment, to date, in Beijing's long bidding process to host the 2008 Olympic Games was when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Evaluation Commission concluded on May 15 this year that Beijing had the technical ability to host an "excellent Games" in 2008.
This meant that on Games-related issues like sports venues, finance, infrastructure, accommodation and environmental protection, Beijing was on a par with the other front runners, Paris and Toronto. Importantly, Beijing answered concerns about pollution and the like by confirming that it would spend $97.4 billion on environmental protection between now and 2008. Without such a positive technical bill-of-health from the IOC, the other strong reasons why Beijing should host the 2008 Olympic Games would not have counted.
The IOC wants the Olympic movement to expand into every corner of the world and its ideals to be embraced by as many people as possible.
This makes China fertile Olympic territory. By awarding the Olympic Games to Beijing, when it decides this Friday who should host the 2008 event, the IOC will be bringing one-fifth of the world's population more closely into the Olympic family.
Furthermore, 94.9 per cent of Beijing's citizens back Beijing's 2008 bid. This is one of its strongest assets. With so many bid-city logos now on display, Beijing already feels like an Olympic city.
By awarding the 2008 Olympics to Beijing, the ideal of the expansion of the Olympic movement can be further promoted, through the exotic mixing of the basic Western concept of the Olympics with the unique culture and sporting traditions of Asia - and, of course, China.
The mainland has thousands of years of sporting heritage. Indeed, it could be claimed that football was invented in China: since specially made stone balls were being kicked around in Shanxi province as far back as the Neolithic Age. And a game called cuju, which has similar rules to modern football, was played during the Han Dynasty (206 BC to AD 220). Fast forward to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and we find that China excels at Olympic sports, coming third in the medals table, behind America and Russia.
With the concept of the universality of the Olympics being so important to the IOC, and no African city bidding for the 2008 Olympics, it is Asia's turn for the games which have not been held on this continent since Seoul played host in 1988.
As Athens will host the 2004 Olympics, the principle of universality will not be well served if another European city is chosen for the 2008 Games. Especially one such as Paris, which has staged the event before in 1924. Canada has also hosted the Games before, when they were held in Montreal in 1976. The other two contenders for the games are Istanbul in Turkey and Osaka in Japan.
Corporate sponsors also enthusiastically support Beijing's bid, especially now that China's entry into the World Trade Organisation is imminent. They all recognise that China has the resources, including television production, stadiums, and administrative ability to do an outstanding job.
When I first went to Beijing in 1974, it was not ready, either physically or emotionally to host the Olympics. Nor was it ready in 1984 or 1994 or at any time before the end of the last century. But those of us who have witnessed the transformation and opening up of China over the past 20 years know that it is now ready and able. And by 2008, China will have reached the necessary level of nation-building and self-esteem to stage "an excellent Games".
As for the talk of the lack of democracy in China and the suppression of the Falun Gong, I say: compare China in 1974, 1979, 1989, or 1999 with now. There have been significant improvements in all aspects of the conditions of the Chinese people since then. By voting for Beijing, the IOC will help speed up this improvement and liberalisation process.
China is still a communist state in name, and the Government cannot be expected to make sudden, drastic political changes. Chaos would follow. China should be allowed to evolve out of communism at its own pace and with Chinese characteristics, following Deng Xiaoping's advice that the colour of the cat does not matter so long as it catches the mouse.
Allowing Beijing to host the 2008 Olympics will not only benefit China, but the whole world, by hastening the pace of reform in China.
Richard Avory was deputy secretary-general of the Seventh Asian Games in 1974, the first occasion on which China participated in the event. He has since helped organise and raise sponsorship for hundreds of sports events in China.
Martin Lee's Party Politics column will appear tomorrow.