We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Reflections on Beijing Olympics by Merlene Emerson

August 25, 2008 11:19 AM

'Ao Yun' in Mandarin or 'Jeux Olympiques' as they say in France. Wherever you may be this month, it is probably difficult to get away from news on the Beijing Olympics. It is afterall the largest international sporting event showcasing the best in athletics and sports. Athletes from no less than 204 'nations' compete for titles and medals. China, as host nation, is on track to break new records in more ways than one. Described in the Economist as something of a 'coming-out party' after over a century of foreign colonisation, civil war and poverty, she is poised to show her return as a great world power.

So what might we learn from the Beijing experience for when it will be our turn in London come 2012? We all know of the escalating budget now at £9 billion almost three times more than what was originally estimated. By ex-Mayor, Ken Livingstone's own admission, he had conspired to put in a low bid in order to deliver the Games for the revitalisation of East London. China, on the other hand, has spent more than double our budget, calculated no doubt to be worth every renminbi. And that in a year which might have started as their annus horribilus with blizzards over Chinese New Year, riots in Tibet, earthquakes in Sichuan and now risks of general inflation. Whilst UK economy is predicted also to slow down, has anyone thought how much worse off we would be if not for the mini-boom provided by the 2012 Olympics?

If like me you had at least watched part of the spectacular Opening Ceremony in the birds-nest stadium, you might have asked as I had what we can do to 'out-do' the Chinese in 2012? We could re-enact the Battle of Waterloo, the glory days of the British Empire, the Industrial Revolution or even boast of our 'invention' of cricket and football? Personally I have no qualms that we will with characteristic British eccentricity and flair come up with some real surprises when the time comes. Nor will we need to parade our ethnic minorities in splendid costumes to identify them. Many will in fact be in our Olympic teams!

This leads to another major reason for wanting to host the games in London and that is to inspire a whole new generation of aspiring athletes. Few would not be moved to see the tears of joy of athletes at the podium hearing their national anthem played and seeing their national flag raised. I was personally more impressed by the 3 Jamaicans making a clean sweep of the medals in the women's100 metre sprint, than the predictable record gold medals won by the most populous country in the world. Hopefully our young people would have found their own heros and heroines - and there were certainly lots from Team GB to inspire them.

As a Liberal Democrat one cannot comment on Beijing Games without some mention of controversy over the Games and concerns over China's human rights record. The pre-Olympic torch trail was dogged by protests against China's treatment of Tibet that it could have turned into a '5 ring circus' instead. We are all to aware that there are strict controls during the Games and in particular stringent rules have been brought in to safeguard against any embarrassing protests. In theory at least journalists are free to report on the Games and to travel within the country without special permits. They are of course encouraged to report on the Games and not on the 3 Ts ('Tibet' 'Tiananmen' or 'Taiwan'). However just as Taiwan has been allowed to compete in the Games as 'Chinese Taipei' and Hong Kong SAR has its own team of athletes as well as being co-host to the equestrian events, the Chinese believe that they can find pragmatic solutions to their problems.

May I close on a quick word on our Beijing office. The ex Mayor of London opened an office in the name of London Development Agency (LDA) in 2006 to encourage inward investment into London and to transfer know how from Beijing's hosting of the Games. I believe I may be one of the few people from UK who has actually paid a visit to LDA's Beijing office. With Boris Johnson, the new Tory Mayor at the helm, there is even more reason to improve our scrutiny over the team at City Hall and to require better accountability of its projects. Only then can we be sure that our Olympic city will be built not only on budget but in good time.