By Larry Eder - 19 June 2009
It was reported on this website today that an internal audit conducted by the State Council that the Olympics made a modest profit of 1.16 billion yuan (£88.8 million) off an expenditure of 19.3 billion yuan (£1.7 billion) and income of 20.5 billion yuan (£1.8 million).
It would seem that, from the audit that the Beijing Olympics were a quite modest undertaking, compared to all Olympics since 1984. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The goal of the Beijing Olympics, as seen by BOCOG (Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games) and the Chinese Government, was to cast the best light on China globally, give the Chinese population stars to be proud of, and no positive drug tests by Chinese athletes.
Much like the Great Wall, the Beijing Olympics were to not only keep the bad guys out, but to keep the good guys - and the Chinese in - and enthralled with the spectacular performances. That is why the lip-synching episode in the Opening ceremony was not understood in Chinese language newspapers. Why? Because the Games were a huge entertainment opportunity as well as a homage to the Chinese nation.
The overall reasoning for this audit was to show that the Beijing Olympics, contrary to the media reports, was not the most expansive Olympics in history. Media reports had suggested infrastructure expenditures of $40 billion (£24.2 billion). As part of the Audit, BOCOG admitted to about $3 billion (£1.8 billion) in infrastructure costs, noting that local monies were used for infrastructure.
Where is the truth? Probably, somewhere in between....
Anyone who spent any time in Beijing and its environs would note the modernisation, the constant building, especially outside of the Olympic area. Hotels, modern shopping centers could all be seen, in plain site, as one walked around Beijing. Airline crews who had flown to China, especially Beijing, for the past 25 years, told me that all of the old, fun places were being razed for new structures.
I stayed about an hour from the Olympic stadium, and on my daily walks in the neighborhoods (I was never stopped), I found new shopping centers on top of old, very European and elegant shops, as well as the very local and time worn.
Western media tended to ignore peculiarly Chinese culture or eccentricities. Do not for a moment consider that I am trying to be an apologist for BOCOG nor the Chinese Government. The control of the city lied with the Chinese Government, as did the control of the Games. Statesmanship is one thing, politics is one thing, accepting that a totalitarian Government moves at a snail like pace is a fact. But that the BOCOG did not see the value in pressuring an allowance of free, peaceful demonstrations, when 70 plus requests were filed with the local authorities and none were approved, is just unacceptable.
The Beijing Games opened China and its people to the world, no doubt about it. The modest expenses noted and modest profit noted shows to a long time observer of China something quite different. The Chinese will actually use the newly acquired infrastructure, and newly built stadiums and apartments.
That $40 billion (£24.2 billion) was added to infrastructure, from wonderful highways, to apartments and plazas, but was not seen, by many Chinese as having anything to do with the Beijing Olympics. It was part of making China look wonderful and prosperous to the eyes of the rest of the world. Like Americans, Brits, Germans, French and other nationalities, the Chinese, whether they support the Government or not, are a proud people and love their country.
The 2008 Olympics gave the world a pretty good glimpse of China. Like past Olympics, it will be fascinating to watch the changes in the country. My belief is that, no matter what the Beijing Government does, change will come to this country much faster than anyone imagined, or that the Government desired.
Larry Eder is the President at Running Network LLC and Group Publisher at Shooting Star Media, Inc. This article was first published at runblog.com.