2008 Summer Olympics Games in Beijing.The 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing China began and ended with all the fanfare that the games are known for. However, as often is the case historically, the Olympic Games were about much more than simply sports.
The first Olympic Games took place in Olympia, Greece in 776 B.C to celebrate Zeus by demonstrating physical abilities through the evolution of performances accomplished by young men. During the games an "Olympic Truce" promoted good relations between Greek cities, and meant that there would be no war during the Games, and citizens could travel to the Games in safety. The first Olympians were Greek men and included only individual sports such as running, wrestling and boxing, with all of the competitions held in the nude to show appreciation for the human body and as tribute to the gods.
In 393 A.D., the games were abolished when the ruling emperor converted to Christianity and ended all pagan practices. It was the dream of Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin that brought back the games to Athens in 1896 with the founding of the International Olympic Committee to organize the event.
Winning the honor to host the 2008 Olympics in 2001, Beijing found themselves strapped with the $42 billion USD budget required to support the event according to the Wall Street Journal. This may seem extravagant, but when compared to China's estimated GDP for the year of $4 trillion USD, the Olympian budget no longer carries the weight it would seem to. Infrastructure and aesthetic improvements were necessary in the host city. A new terminal at Beijing's Capital International Airport took $3 billion USD while the National Stadium cost $423 million USD. Subway lines were laid, and ancient temples and ruins were painstakingly brought back to their previous glory. The official website of the International Olympics Committee (www.olympic.org) exhibits the remarkable restoration going on in China at ancient sites of priceless history and on everyday roads and alleys.
Some question the spending of such a great amount on something that may not reap lasting benefits. While the Chinese economy has prospered in the past thirty years, there are tens of millions still in poverty while social welfare programs and health care lag in funds in this communist nation.
The Olympic effort also affected local businesses. Factories around the city had been closed or moved to clear the air of choking smog, the economic repercussions of which are yet to be known. The New York Times reports on the building of walls around "eyesores," having the effect of strangling local businesses. People have purportedly been given meager compensation and evicted from their homes to construct venues for the events and an ornamental wall.
While the majority of the improvements are focused on infrastructure and thus will remain a resource for the betterment of China's future, there are other elements that linger in doubt as to their potential for making back what was spent on them. Now that the games are over, the National Stadium will sit largely unused, and when it does hold events, the proceeds are likely to barely cover the cost of maintenance. However, the newly installed subway lines will reduce congestion and pollution. Improved roads will promote trade and growth.
The industry expected to feel the most impact is tourism. The United Nation's World Tourism Organization currently ranks China as the 4th most popular tourist destination. The UNWTO predicts China to be on top by 2020 as a result of hosting the Olympic Games. Half a million visitors were expected during the games with another 2.4 million domestic visitors.
The Beijing games were surrounded by controversy mostly because of reported human rights violations in China, including claims of severe monitoring of citizens and foreigners in China. The U.S. and Britain were successful in lobbying China to release 10 foreign nationals that had been recently arrested for their involvement in a pro-Tibet protest. They were released during the Games' closing ceremonies. Amnesty International has released a report naming what it purports to be additional transgressions by China.
Leaders of the free world took different actions to express their stand on China's treatment of their citizens. Some leaders addressed the issue in the open, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who did not attend the opening ceremonies. Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of Great Britain, only attended the closing ceremony as he is the leader of the country in which the next games will take place.
President Bush attended the opening ceremony claiming that doing so made clear the position of the U.S. on human rights abuse in China. There had been political pressure on Bush to give a speech on human rights, which he did at the opening ceremony of a new $434 million U.S. embassy in China saying, "We strongly believe societies which allow the free expression of ideas tend to be the most prosperous and the most peaceful." In response, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang admonished Bush, saying "We firmly oppose any words or acts that interfere in other countries internal affairs, using human rights and religion and other issues."
But returning to the heart of the games, America had many victories as well as some heartbreaks. The men's basketball team, nicknamed the "Redeem Team" with Kobe Bryant and James LeBron took back the gold after their defeat in the 2004 Olympics. Tyson Gay dropped the baton in the 4x100 relay, disqualifying the American men's team, and shortly after, the baton dropped again for the women's team, disqualifying them. America dominated beach volleyball, taking gold with Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh for the women's team and Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers for the men's team. The women's gymnastics team had to settle for silver behind China's gold in what will probably be an ongoing controversy regarding whether all of the Chinese team were really over age 16 as required, and also regarding some very questionable calls by officials. Dara Torres defied assumptions of what a 41 year old can accomplish when she swam to silver, missing gold by only one one-hundredth of a second. Another one one-hundredth of a second was the difference that allowed Michael Phelps to make history by swimming to a record breaking 8 gold medals in one Olympics.
Jessica Clever is a former FBA/TIC intern, now working in the private sector.