Monday, August 25, 2008 0 comments ++[ CLICK TO COMMENT ]++

China's Olympics: Coming Out Party Was Successful!

(source: Beijing 2008 Closing Ceremony. Steve Russell for The Toronto Star. August 25, 2008)

As Always, the Olympics are either a colossal waste of money, or a worthwhile pursuit. I'm not really into sports but I do consider the Olympics to be something special and watch some of it on TV. It's one of the few events where the whole world participates regardless of political or economic stance.

China's Olympics, held in Beijing, was very successful in my eyes. The opening and closing ceremonies were entertaining; the events were hosted without many problems; infrastructure and facilities were supposedly excellent; many Olympic and world records were broken; exciting races; and everyone got to know China a little bit more. I've been "following" China for a while now so there is little new to me but I'm sure the general population, whose knowledge is often shaped by stereotypes and politically-driven views, learned something.

Symbolic Event

To some this is just another Olympics but it's a rare event for the China. This is their coming out party. This is the event that puts them on the world stage. For wealthy, developed countries Olympics isn't a big deal. One of your cities is bound to get an opportunity to host it sooner or later. For developing countries, that's not the case. You may only get the opportunity once in a hundread years. This could very well be the case in China, which may not host it for the next 100 years. So the Beijing Olympics is very symbolic and when they say they have been waiting for a hundread years, it's true.

China spent $43 billion on this Olympics compared to $12.8 billion by Athens in 2004. The 2012 Olympics in London is already facing budget concerns and won't be spending anything like Beijing did. As staggering as that amount may seem, most of it is on long-term infrastructure that is much-needed for a country like China. China is projected to spend $400 billion on their infrastructure this year so this is just 10% of it.

The Olympics will also improve the awareness of Beijing. It's hard to quantify but impression among tourists, businesspeople, and politicians are likely to improve. A well-known city like London probably doesn't derive much benefit from hosting the Olympics but Beijing isn't in the same situation.

The Future

China's performance in the Olympics was excellent. It ended up with the most gold medals, and only trailed USA for the total number of medals. I guess it's a sign of the times that China with its large population is finally catching up to the elite athletic countries.

With the Olympics over, China still has a lot of problems ahead. Some human rights activists were dissapointed that nothing seems to have been done on that front. They were hoping that the Olympics would increase freedoms but that didn't really happen. I personally think it is unreasonable to expect the Olympics to have a major impact on freedoms. When an American TV personality asked the IOC head, Jacques Rogue, about this, he basically pointed out the reality of the situation. The IOC can simply lodge a complaint but the countries do whatever they want. He pointed out the example of USA preventing Cuban athletes from entering USA, and when the IOC lodged a complaint, USA just ignored them. All the IOC can do is to lodge a complaint and the government does whatever it wants.

China purposely capped economic activity around Beijing during the Olympics. This ranged from temporarily placing bans on polluting industries, to cutting down on car traffic. They also seem to have imposed some strict visa procedures, which ended up backfiring with less-than-expected tourists. The economy should bounce back up now that the Olympics are over. However the future of the issues facing Beijing--and China in general--such as pollution, weakening economic growth, curbs on freedoms, and so forth, need to dealt with.

My Olympic Entertainment

As for me, I'm not really into sports but did check out some events here and there. As usual, track & field was entertaining. There is always a concern with drugs in track & field but the winners were nearly all clean this year. Notwithstanding the showboating which led to just barely setting a 100m world record, Usain Bolt is the real thing. I saw the table tennis final between two Chinese and it was exciting. I also checked out taekwondo, which is fun but can be slow. Anyone that stayed up to watch the men's basketball final between USA and Spain had a blast. I thought the Americans were going to crush the Spaniards but that was not to be and resulted in a very exciting game.

I am glad to see the power of the Internet finally being unleashed. The television broadcaster in Canada (CBC) and USA (NBC) provided free live internet feeds. Once upon a time, you simply watched what was broadcast on TV. Not anymore. It was cool to watch some events that don't get much attention from the Canadian broadcaster (kind of makes sense if Canadians aren't competing in it.) I hope the internet feeds continue and are improved upon for the future (CTV gets the future Olympic rights in Canada and I hope they don't mess it up.) One downside to the feeds was the fact that they were low resolution so they were small video boxes on my computer monitor (I'm not sure how good the American website feeds were.) I guess it's a bit too much to expect high-definition (HD) feeds right now but it would be nice to get them in the future.


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