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Old 5th August 2007, 12:51 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Olympics: A year off, Beijing taking Games to new level

AFP - 29 minutes agoBEIJING (AFP)

A year out from the Beijing Olympics, China's drive to stage the best Games ever looks on track as builders start to deliver the shiny new stadiums and preparations continue with gold-medal efficiency.

China's leadership is attaching an extraordinary level of importance to the world's premier sports event, seeing it as something of a coming-out party to mark the rise of a new and influential global player.

On Wednesday, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge will join senior Chinese government officials on Beijing's famous Tiananmen Square to launch the one-year countdown to the opening on August 8, 2008.

He has said the capital is on course to stage a "perfect" Games, which Liu Qi, head of the organising committee and a member of China's ruling politburo, said would be "validation of China's international power and influence."

"We must fully recognise the significance the Olympic Games has to promoting every aspect of China's development," Liu added.

However problems such as Beijing's notorious pollution and traffic gridlock still threaten to throw a spanner in China's otherwise well-oiled Olympic machine.

And a plethora of rights groups and activists working overtime around the world want to use the Olympics as a platform to pressure the nation's communist rulers.

In response, China has insisted sport and politics should not be mixed and has sought to keep the focus on things like the gleaming new stadiums emerging well ahead of schedule, and which have won glowing reviews.

Two are already design icons -- the National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest due to its interwoven steel structure, and the National Aquatics Centre, or Water Cube, with a soft blue outer membrane that mimics bubbling water.

All 31 venues in Beijing will be finished well before the opening ceremony, organisers say. Two -- the shooting range and a rowing and canoeing park -- were handed over last month.

China is setting a new benchmark for Olympic excellence, said Steven Roush, chief of sports performance for the US Olympic Committee.

"My expectation is that in 2008 you will witness the most magnificent Olympic Games ever held," he said during a visit here to witness one-year countdown celebrations.

Olympic pole vaulting champion and current IOC member Sergei Bubka was equally enthusiastic. "I think this will be a fantastic Games."

More than 10,000 athletes are expected to compete in 28 sports at the August 8-24 Games, which is expected to attract over half a million visitors.

Demand for tickets domestically has already been high as China hopes to win the medals count after coming a close second to the Americans in the Athens Olympics four years ago.

US sports officials fear a bump in the medal count traditionally enjoyed by the host nation could be enough to enable the Chinese to do it.

Starting with the one-year countdown, China is launching a series of more than 40 test events to fine-tune preparations. They include cycling road races, football, wrestling, hockey and beach volleyball.

City officials said last month they would also ban a million cars from the streets during the August countdown period in an effort to improve Beijing's poor air quality.

They are also trying to improve the way Beijing residents behave.

Campaigns to encourage residents to smile and to stop spitting, littering, queue-jumping and other deep-rooted "uncivilised" behaviour have been running at full throttle for months in the capital.

"We must eliminate the city's dirty, chaotic and backward image and build a friendly environment," Liu said recently.

But the area of most concern for China in its drive to present a good image may turn out to be the rights issues that groups inside and outside the country are desperate to publicise.

Government and organising officials have spent months frantically trying to put out one public relations fire after another.

Earlier this year, US actress and UNICEF Goodwill ambassador Mia Farrow crystalised concerns when she said the Olympics may end up being known as the "Genocide Games" because of China's support for the Sudanese regime, which is embroiled in conflict in its Darfur region.

Scares over food security, fanned by high-profile cases of exports of toxic Chinese products, and scandals over use of slave labour in brick kilns, have also tarnished China's image recently.

But the IOC has taken the criticism on China in its stride, insisting that the Games will have a positive effect on conditions in the host country.

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Old 6th August 2007, 10:52 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Olympics: A year off, Beijing taking Games to new level

well China may have the best athletes but they still have some way to go in improving their social images of the city

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