Thursday, August 7, 2008

Countdown to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games – best ever Games, never, never, never

The Games of the 29th Olympiad, the 2008 Beijing Olympics’ Opening Ceremonies are less than 24 hours away. The Chinese have spent more than $43 billion both on direct and infrastructure costs related to hosting the Summer Olympics. The International Olympic Committee’s 12 global corporate sponsors have invested $866 million in the Beijing Games. Worldwide television rights fees have topped $1.44 billion. The costs of Friday’s Opening Ceremonies alone will top $100 million – on every conceivable level the 2008 Beijing Olympics defy any rational economic thinking process.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics will be defined not by the enormity of nearly $45 billion that has been invested in what amounts to an 18-day party, but by the lasting image the Chinese government will leave on the world in the next two and a half weeks. And the early barometer – come hell or high water, the Chinese are ready to clamp down on anyone who might ‘rain on their Olympic parade.’

In the last 48 hours alone, an honored Olympian who won both a gold and silver medal in the 2006 Torino Winter Games has been banned from China, two protestors have been arrested and allegedly vanished, and additional restrictions have been placed on the 20,000 journalists converging on Beijing for the start of the Olympic Games.

Tuesday, Team Darfur co-founder and Olympic Gold Medal winning speed skater (2006 Winter Games) Joey Cheek had his visa to China revoked. The Chinese embassy in Washington, DC today revoked his visa to travel to Beijing for the Olympic Games.

The Chinese government official who called Cheek stated simply that he was “not required to give a reason” for revoking visas. Cheek had planned to attend the Games to support the 72-plus athletes who will be competing in Beijing who have signed onto Team Darfur. Those athletes, along with hundreds of other former Olympians, have pledged to draw attention to the ongoing genocide in Darfur, and what China and the international community can do to stop it.

“I am saddened not to be able to attend the Games. The Olympic Games represent something powerful: that people can come together from around the world and do things that no one thought were possible. However, the denial of my visa is a part of a systemic effort by the Chinese government to coerce and threaten athletes who are speaking out on behalf of the innocent people of Darfur. Team Darfur’s main efforts have been to advocate for an Olympic Truce for Darfur, and to raise awareness about the crisis and ask for lasting peace on behalf of the children of Darfur.

“The Olympic Truce captures the spirit of the Olympics: around the Games, the world should come together to work for peace and speak out against conflict. The Chinese government’s efforts to suppress athletes, even those who are competing in the Olympic and Paralympic Games, who speak about essential human rights issues, is a violation of that core Olympic spirit.

“I still remained convinced of the great role the Olympics can play as a force for promoting peace around the world, including the still raging crisis in Darfur. Yet, despite the fact that I’ve always spoken positively of the Olympic ideal, and never called for a boycott or asked an athlete to break an IOC rule, my visa was revoked less than 24 hours before my scheduled departure.”

Cheek is a U.S. citizen and won the gold medal in speed skating for the US at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi released the following statement calling on President Bush to secure Joey Cheek entry to Beijing:

“In the coming days, President Bush will arrive in Beijing. I call on President Bush to secure the entry of Joey Cheek and other U.S. citizens who have been barred from attending the Olympics because of their beliefs, advocacy for the people of Darfur and human rights in China and Tibet. It is essential that President Bush show leadership in promoting democracy, freedom, and human rights during his visit to China.

The Olympic Charter states that ‘Any form of discrimination with regard to a country of a person on the grounds of race, religion, politics, gender, or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.’ The International Olympic Committee is tolerating clear violations of both the Olympic ideals and the commitments the Chinese government made in order to host the Olympic Games."

The White House has also responded. Dana Perino, the current White House Press Secretary to George W. Bush, made the following statement aboard Air Force One:

"We were disturbed to learn that the Chinese had refused his visa. We are taking the matter very seriously. We have sent in our embassy in Beijing to démarche the Chinese. That is where we go in and we say we are concerned about this, and we want you to reconsider your actions. So we would hope that they would change their mind. And I'll hopefully have more for you later, but we had to also wait for Washington to wake up to take any further action."

China is the biggest country in the world, with one-quarter of the world’s population living within the borders of the communist country. There will be more than 20,000 journalists in Beijing covering the Olympics. Tuesday, the alleged treatment of two Japanese journalists sent a scary message to the 20,000 media people in China assigned to cover the 29th Olympiad.

According to a Reuters report: two Japanese reporters covering a bombing in China that took place Monday were beaten and then jailed by Chinese officials. The two men, one a photographer with the regional Chunichi Shimbun newspaper and the other a reporter for Nippon Television, were detained near the site of the attack in Kashgar in China's western Xinjiang region, which saw 16 police killed only four days before the Beijing Olympics begin, spokesmen for the two companies said on Tuesday.

The journalists were then taken to a police building where they were beaten, before being released about two hours later. Neither was seriously injured, the spokesmen said.

The death of 16 Chinese policemen is terrible, suggestions the attack may have been the work of terrorists on the eve of the Olympic Games in the host country makes this a major international news story.

The alleged beating and jailing of two reporters covering a breaking news story in China sends a chilling message to the 20,000 journalists in China for the Games -- you had better be careful where you step. It should send an even scarier message to the International Olympic Committee and the 12 major international companies that have invested in the Beijing Games. You too will be held accountable if the actions of the Chinese government bring shame and embarrassment to the Olympic movement.

And leave it to the Chinese to make it clear what message they want sent to the media. According to a Reuters report: the Beijing city government said on its Web site that Chinese and foreign journalists who want to report and film in Tiananmen "are advised to make advanced appointments by phone." It said that will help ensure orderly newsgathering amid what are expected to be large crowds in the square on each day of the games, which start Friday.

IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies told the media attempting to cover the Games the new arrangement didn't match the IOC’s “understanding” of access to Tiananmen. Just what the IOC and their hundred-million-dollar corporate partners needs to hear – alleged media beatings and more restrictions placed upon the more than 20,000 journalists in Beijing.

The Times of London offered further proof Wednesday that the Games of the 29th Olympiad if nothing else will be noted for their ‘intense’ political related content.

According to the published report: Two British graduates were at the heart of a pro-Tibetan protest today that caused China deep embarrassment as it prepared for the opening of the Olympic Games.

Iain Thom, 24, from Edinburgh, and Lucy Fairbrother, 23, a graduate of Bristol University and the daughter of the senior bursar at Trinity College, Cambridge, were arrested along with Phil Bartell, 34, from New Jersey, and Tirian Mink, 32, from Portland, Oregon. The Xinhua news agency said that the visas of all four had been revoked and that they would be deported.

Thom and Bartell climbed halfway up two 120 foot pylons as dawn broke over the Bird’s Nest stadium that will host the opening ceremony on Friday.

They unfurled Tibetan flags and two 140 square foot banners, one of which read, “One World, One Dream, Free Tibet” — mimicking the “One World, One Dream” official Games slogan. Another called for a “Free Tibet” in English and Chinese.

The two lighting poles are just outside the high-security zone around the stadium. Although the protesters did not have to climb a fence or negotiate the airport-style security gates while carrying ropes and banners, the entire zone is patrolled by police and military personnel through the night.

The role of Fairbrother and Mink was to ensure that the climbers’ equipment was working safely and to protect them from members of the public who might try to intervene.

Footage of the protest appeared to have been taken at some distance from the climbers and their supporters, but there were no reports of any further arrests.

The Chinese Government has deployed 110,000 security personnel across the capital, including 34,000 People’s Liberation Army troops. It has also installed tens of thousands of surveillance cameras in what has been described as the most sophisticated security system in Olympic history.

Former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch first coined the Olympic phrase for host city “best Games ever” at the end of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. Samaranch used the phrase for each of the remaining Games during his presidency (the 2000 Sydney Games where his last and Samaranch used other words when he spoke about the 1996 Atlanta Games).

John Furlong, the head of Vancouver-Whistler's 2010 Olympic organizing committee (VANOC), made it clear to CanWest Global’s Can Cole as far as he is concerned – nothing will top what will begin to unfold in Beijing starting Friday. Furlong made it clear to Canada’s National Post he is one very impressed Canadian.

"There's no question that Beijing has proven that they are capable of anything. It's astonishing," said the head of Vancouver-Whistler's 2010 Olympic organizing committee (VANOC).

"I've been to Beijing six times, and seen six different cities. And it's all been in three years. You come down the street, and the trees that they've planted aren't six feet high, they're 60 feet high. Just coming in from the airport this time, we were asking: ‘Is this the road we came in on last time?' Last time was only four months ago."

The 2008 Beijing Games never had a budget. Cost overruns have always been a concern and a major issue at Olympic Games since the financially plagued 1976 Montreal Games. There’s nothing wrong with what Furlong is saying, but all the Chinese are about to prove is that if you throw enough money at something you can buy success.

"When you're trying to do this, you always want to be judged on the big picture and not have it broken down into small pockets. It's real easy to look at something and say, yeah, this is good, but what about that?" Furlong said. "They've certainly demonstrated, by any fair standard, that human beings are capable of amazing things.

"So I hope that what happens out of this is that they are given the benefit of a fair test, and that people really judge this for the execution of the event, and the sport. I have a person who's been driving me around and she tells me they estimate there will be one billion people tuned into the opening ceremonies on television. One billion people.

"And you want it to be good for them. On the street, you feel the sense that people are really hoping for a great, proud couple of weeks, and I hope they get it."

Furlong's belief is that Beijing will retire the crown of Best Ever as he told The Vancouver Sun.

"They've really thought it out, every little detail. And I really think that anyone who tried to replicate it ... there's no percentage in it. This is the best that there's ever been," Furlong said, "and we'll have to be great/different.

"We're in a city right now where the best men and women of all time have assembled -- these are the best athletes that have ever been born -- and they couldn't have built a more magnificent backdrop for them.

"I just sort of feel a spirit of wonder, because you're never going to see something like this again. There will be great Olympics, but it won't be like this. I think it will be fantastic to be able to look back and say I was here.

"I have no idea what people are going to feel [at the opening ceremony] on Friday night, but I bet there'll be people reaching for words to describe it."

Last Friday, Chinese President Hu Jintao met with the media in Beijing, offering his perspective on how the leader of the world’s most populated nation feels about the upcoming Beijing Games.

"We hope that foreign reporters while in China will respect our laws and rules, report objectively and help communication and understanding between China and the peoples of the world," Hu said.

"The determining factor in securing the success of the Olympic Games is to work vigorously to promote the Olympic spirit featuring friendship, solidarity and peace," Hu said. "The key is to ensure that athletes from all countries will have a level playing field to compete fairly."

"We need to ensure that our friends from the five continents can further enhance their mutual understanding and deepen their friendship during the games," Hu said.

Two dozen reporters were invited to the press conference and only questions submitted in advance were permitted. When Georg Blume of the German newspaper Die Zeit tried to pose a question at the end on human rights, Hu ignored him. Needless to say, freedom of the press isn’t a hallmark of Hu’s government.

“Since Beijing won the bid for the games on July 13, 2001, the Chinese government and the Chinese people have been working in earnest to honor the commitments made to the international community,” Hu said.

"That the Olympic Games will be held in China, a country that accounts for one fifth of humanity, shows the trust placed on China by the world and is itself a contribution by China to the world.

"The Beijing Olympic Games belongs to the Chinese people, and more importantly also belongs to the people from around the world.

"We pay close attention to raising the level of our people in terms of civility. We have launched a nationwide campaign among 400 million Chinese children and teenagers concerning the Olympic education.

"We work vigorously to encourage the Chinese people to be gracious, courteous, warm, friendly and hospitable hosts for the Games."

The question is “how will the Beijing Games be judged?” If they are judged strictly as a sporting event, with the barometer being facilities and athletic performance, the Beijing Games will be among the best ever. The Lords of the Rings (the International Olympic Committee) believe that is the only criteria that should be used for judging an Olympic Games. Even though he is not a member of the IOC, Furlong is very closely linked to the IOC and his comments aren’t out of line.

While Chinese President Hu may not want politics to play a role in the Beijing Games, in 2008, the world we live in begs to differ. The era of instant communications dictates that the Beijing Games will be judged both on how the Chinese manage the Olympic Games and on how the Chinese treat their politics in the next two and a half weeks. Judging by the past 48 hours – the Games of the 29th Olympics will be the most interesting and politically charged Games in many years.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The Times of London, Team Darfur

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