|The People's Republic of Spin (Canberra Times)
||[Aug. 16th, 2008|05:20 pm]
From The Canberra Times
BY JACQUELIN MAGNAY IN BEIJING
16/08/2008 10:46:00 AM
Beijing 2008 is the illusionary Olympic Games. These are the Olympics that claim to have sold out a record 6.8million tickets yet there are empty seats. A sizeable proportion of Beijing's 16million population cram behind barricades to get a glimpse of the spectacular Olympic venues of the Bird's Nest and Water Cube, yet the Olympic Green precinct, which has cost 10 billion yuan ($A1.69billion) and incorporates both venues, is bereft of people and spark.
Beijing organising committee vice-president Wang Wei and other International Olympic Committee officials repeatedly claim the press is free to report on the Games, yet venue managers, under instruction from the organisers, will not allow reporters to ask topical non-sporting questions of Georgian or Russian athletes. Transcripts of the press conference questions about censorship are themselves heavily censored.
Volunteers in yellow T-shirts and red caps quaintly described as ''cheerleaders'' fill the empty seats. At the Shunyi Olympic rowing and canoe park and Fengtai Sports Centre Softball Field they were bussed and trucked in, wearing shirts emblazoned in English with the words ''Cheering From Beijing Workers''.
They furiously wave flags, blow up noisy sticks and chant in English and Mandarin ''Olympics, Go, Go, Go'' or ''China, Go, Go, Go''.
But expectations of hordes of ordinary Chinese families relaxing and soaking up the Games atmosphere between events by wandering the manicured vast Olympic Green are missing.
So too is spontaneity. One cheerleader said, ''I am here to cheer. I have been practising English.''
Mr Wang said this week, ''We are concerned about the not-full stadiums. Many factors are contributing to this. We are now trying to manage that for the Olympic Green. Yesterday they saw not many people inside.''
Later he noted, ''We are trying to persuade people to respect their rights to watch the Games.''
Sponsors who have injected 20 per cent of the total Games revenue are starting to murmur their dissent.
IOC games executive director Gilbert Felli confirmed this, noting that those sponsors with exhibitions in the Olympic Green precinct who were in the front row were happy, but those further back reported little traffic.
Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates has had a few digs, noting that the organisers have not got the balance between security and atmosphere right.
Central to all of this is control. Chinese officials want to minimise anything that will impact on the image presented to the world through the television audience of four billion but, by doing so, they have exposed themselves to enormous criticism for trying to present a falsely pristine occasion.
There is no doubt the ordinary Chinese people want to see and enjoy the Games, and some of them were lucky to buy the cheap tickets, but many, many thousands more seats have been reserved for the Communist Party's political connections, its military and security. Tickets were distributed through state-run factories for events in lesser demand, but the people have been turned off by the tough security.