Beijing 2008 – 500 days to go
With 500 days until the lighting of the Olympic flame in the Beijing National Stadium, IOC President Jacques Rogge talks about Games preparations, the challenges lying ahead and also about his hopes and expectations…
During my last visit to Beijing in October last year, I really felt a tremendous sense of excitement at seeing these magnificent venues, which, in 500 days, will be the home to many emotional and historic moments in Olympic sport and ceremony.
I was of course amazed by two state-of-the-art venues: the National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest, and the National Aquatics Center, or Water Cube, as it is often referred to. These are two great examples of Olympic venues that demonstrate how sport can inspire architects to give birth to fascinating constructions, where technical innovation meets creative imagination.
The construction of the 31 Beijing-based competition venues is progressing at a tremendous pace. At the time of my last visit, 12 new venues are now under construction, renovation of nine out of the 11 existing venues was under way, and five of the eight temporary venues were being built. With a large number of test events coming-up this year, I am looking forward to seeing some of these venues in use.
The first venue to be completed was the Fengtai Softball Field - the venue for Olympic softball. Indeed, it has already successfully hosted the ISF Women's World Championship last August.
The venues are of course the most visible sign that preparations are progressing well. But in addition to this, my colleagues on the IOC’s Coordination Commission, which will convene again mid-April, tell me on a regular basis that across the board, the Games organisers are doing a tremendous job.
When the IOC awarded the Games to Beijing in 2001, it did so with the belief that, in addition to the technical excellence of the bid, the Games would leave a unique legacy to China and to the world of sport. What I have seen so far and what I look forward to seeing during the forthcoming visit of the Executive Board confirms that this belief not only still holds true, but indeed grows stronger every day.
I have learnt through my Olympic experience that test events are key to the success of the Games. Great progress in venue construction should not mean that the organisers lose focus on other areas of Games preparations because it is in the moments when you lose your concentration that mistakes can creep in.
Beijing and the co-host cities will host some 26 tests events throughout 2007 and these events will allow BOCOG to fine-tune and improve their process and operations before actually staging the Games. It is important, however, that these events are not treated on their own but as part of an integrated preparation for the Games because it is through learning the lessons from these events that BOCOG as an organisation will achieve their objective of hosting successful Olympic Games in 2008.
The whole point of the exercise is to learn from your experiences at these events and use that knowledge to help you operate in a better way at Games time. Should issues arise, it is important to have the systems in place to identify and assess those issues and work towards improvement by integrating all the entities that are involved in Games operations.
Good and healthy competition conditions for the athletes are of the utmost importance, a point which the IOC has stressed to the Games organisers and which they fully understand and are working hard to ensure they do their best to achieve. Indeed this issue, particularly concerning air quality, is being closely looked at the by the Beijing Organising Committee and local authorities. The competition conditions for athletes will, of course, be high on the agenda of the Coordination Commission when it meets in April.
I think it is also important to remember that environmental challenges are not new to the Olympic Games and that athletes and their coaches are very experienced in trying to anticipate the requirements needed for top level performances. In Athens, for example, there were issues of heat, and the Los Angeles and Seoul Olympic Games had challenges with air quality. These were issues that both the IOC and the respective organisers were conscious of, just as is the case in Beijing, and took the necessary measures to counterbalance. The Beijing organisers are working on a number of contingency plans for the Games and the test events that I mentioned earlier will be an opportunity to see how these plans will work and if any improvements need to be made to them.
Air quality is important, as I’ve said. But this topic should not be the only focus of attention concerning the environment, particularly with all the good work that the Beijing organisers and the local authorities have being doing to tackle other environmental issues such as water treatment, solid waste management and the creation and protection of green areas and forests.
90% of Beijing’s sewage is now treated thanks to the construction of new water treatment plants. As much as 95% of city rubbish has been given pollution-free treatment and Beijing will complete planting of a 533-hectare forestry project near the airport and Olympic venues by the end of this year. They have also taken measures to move heavy industry that was responsible in the past for a lot of air pollution out of the city to other regions and to cleaner plants. The Games have been an important catalyst helping to fast track environmental sustainability programmes.
A positive Olympic influence…
I am often asked what I expect from the Games in Beijing. Above all, I expect great Games for the athletes. The Olympic Games are made for young people at the peak of their athletic career pursuing excellence. And I have no doubt that performing in a country where things are moving so fast and where modernity and tradition blend in a unique way will be a fascinating experience for the athletes of the world.
I also see the bringing of Olympic values to 1/5th of the world’s population, through the Games and its associated education projects, as one of the most exciting things for the IOC today. It is nothing short of staggering to know that 400 million children in 500,000 elementary and secondary schools will learn from these Olympic education projects. As we look to the future – Vancouver 2010, London 2012 and beyond, the IOC is excited by the cultural exchanges and learnings that are to come.
When walking through the streets of Beijing, the pride and enthusiasm of its people is palpable. It is therefore not surprising to hear that over 370,000 people have already applied to become Games-time volunteers for the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games! Also, thanks to BOCOG’s ticketing programme prices, people from a very wide range of income levels will be able to experience the Games, which is.a great way to continue to build on the excitement that is already there and to ensure that the Beijing Games will have the unique atmosphere that only China and its people can offer.