One of the worst kept rumors in the past several months has regarded the Beijing government's focus on controlling demonstrations, and controlling the comments by non-Chinese media and athletes. Over the next week, I will provide you with the list of issues that the Chinese government and the Beijing Organizing Committee has concerns about during the Olympics.
The modern Olympic movement has come to pass at the time of rising nationalism among the 300 plus countries on the planet. The Olympic torch relay was a huge surprise to both the IOC and the Beijing government. The ferocity of the protests in Europe, the level of organization in San Francisco, and the worldwide support that Tibet received when it became known that the Dalai Lama did not ever suggest independence, but autonomy....
In early May, the Bird's nest had its final test before the Olympics. A very large track meet, with 50,000 fans, was held in the new stadium.
Everything was being checked. Liu Xiang, the gold medalist from Athens at 110m hurdles, purposely false started in his section in order to test the new timing equipment from Omega, the company which has timed all Olympics since 1932 in Los Angeles. The Good Luck Meet, which had a complete schedule of events, including a marathon, gave the officials and the LOC a chance to test their plans, the facilities and their schedule. With any test, there were issues, however, from all indications, the event went off quite well and the LOC learnt from the test.
In this day and age, Security is always an issue. I remember in 2004, being in Athens with my son Adam, seventeen at the time. I would get him Day passes to join me while I worked and he got to see the entire track series. He also would sit down with the Greek soldiers while I was writing, and strike up conversations about their munitions, their concerns for security. He met many of the athletes, including translating enough German and Greek to set up a German decathlete with this quite attractive Greek girl, but that is another story. Adam noted that, to a one, the soldier were quite confident of their security, and wondered why there were so few Americans in Greece during the Olympics? " We have lived with Muslims, Christians and Jews for two thousand years here, why would someone destroy their own homes? " was a comment made to Adam.
This is a party in China that is quite different from Greece. While Greece is a nation of great history and great sports history, it is a nation that juggles a community with diverse interests, religious, political and ethnic. In the two years before the Olympics, the Greek police broke the back of a terrorist group that had been murdering US and European nationals who, the group saw as symbols of the global control of their country. In Greece, politics is something to argue about, over a bottle of Uso, a few pints of Stella, and some olives.
The party in China is a big deal for the 1.4 billion Chinese. It is also a party, that I believe, the Beijing government wishes that they could control a bit more. This coming out party is showing China as a growing country, with great potential, a great history and a great people. The frightening part, for the powers that be, is the levels of corruption that the government can not seem to control, as in the recent story in Financial Times suggesting that while schools collapsed, killing the only ONE child that most Chinese couples were allowed to have, the party buildings in the same towns survived. That the schools and party buildings were built by the same companies, companies that were owned in part by people who were major party members or family members of the party major domos has been rumored. That the quality of the school building supplies and party building supplies were very different has also been noted.
What does this say about the country of China? It says, that like all societies, China has to look inward before it looks outward. Made in China is now a suspect brand to many. When consumers think that, Chinese brands are in trouble. In the frightening speed with which China has grown and the amazing speed with which a middle class is rising, China has not been able to develop the quality control needed to protect the brand. This is a short coming that can be fixed, and understanding national pride, will be fixed. But there will be bubbles along the way and the problematic issues of an economy and nation rising out of a country where most people lived outside of the major cities and survived off their own farms or tiny factories will be seen by all.
This is the issue. The Chinese government does not want anything to derail their plan, their hopes of what the Beijing 2008 Games can do for China. The LOC and the
Chinese government want to control all group meetings, non IOC interview occassions with athletes, and requested, several months ago, a list of all interviews and members of the press that will be at those interviews, with passport numbers and pictures. 30,000 members of the press are supposed to attend the Games, but many will find the physical act of obtaining a visa an almost herculean act. You see, the Chinese invented bureaucracy, several thousand years ago. If there is a way to bury something in paperwork, it will happen in Beijing. This is nothing cruel or evil, but only part of a system that has controlled and governed China for five thousand years.
On 08.08.08, at local Chinese time of 8:08 in the evening, the opening ceremony will start. I believe that the opening ceremony will go off without a hitch, and the sixteen days of the Olympic Games. There will be frustrations, power outages, but the 500,000 foreigners will find China fascinating, but much too much to swallow and digest on one trip. China will become a much larger travel focus for tourists. This will make the Beijing government happy, as they let a sigh out once the Games are over. Sixteen days, they just have to survive those sixteen days.
The folks at Omega, in charge of all sports timing at the Olympics, will be working day and night to make sure that all the records are timed with precision. The folks at VISA will continue to send TV messages celebrating the Olympic spirit, with duo tone commercials of British runner Derek Redmond, being helped around the track by his father in Barcelona, with a voice over from a well respected American star of screen and stage.
There will be records, by athletes from all over the world, and also a nice medal hall from the Chinese. Drug positives will be down because of the effectiveness of USADA and WADA and also internal testing in China. The last thing that the Chinese want is a positive drug test from one of their athletes.
The 2008 Olympics will be a success on many planes. The Chinese will have had their world party, and IOC will be pleased with the Games, relieved with the lack of security issues, and waxing poetically about the next Games. ( I for one, do not understand why, in 2020, the Olympics are not given a permanent site in Athens. )
In the end, I might suggest the the Beijing government, the LOC, the IOC re read a poem attributed to Lao Tsu, one of the possible compilers of the Tao Te Chang, which was used by Chinese rulers for several centuries as a guide to just rule:
Why are people starving?
Because the rulers eat up the money in taxes.
Therefore the people are starving.
Why are the people rebellious?
Because the rulers interfere too much.
Therefore they are rebellious.
Why do people think so little of death?
Because the rulers demand too much of life.
Therefore the people take life lightly.
Having to live on, one knows better than to value life too much.