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Beijing’s Olympic Endeavor

Can the Olympic Games serve as a forceful instrument to change countries for the better?

September 22, 2000

Can the Olympic Games serve as a forceful instrument to change countries for the better?

The bidding by cities around the world to host the Olympics has long been a contentious process. During the cold war, the venue of the Olympics led to boycotts of the 1980 Moscow Games by the United States — and, in turn, of the 1984 Los Angeles Games by the Soviet Union.

More recently, allegations of corruption within the International Olympic Committee in the selection of host cities has further tainted the honor of playing host. But as Beijing’s bid for the 2008 Games demonstrates, these bids can also serve as positive forces for domestic change in the aspiring host countries.

Beijing originally submitted a bid to host the 2000 Games, which were eventually awarded to Sidney by only a two vote margin. After initial frustration over the outcome of the earlier bid, Beijing decided not to give up and is now back in the running for the 2008 Games. This time around, it is sparing no effort to impress the IOC selection committee.

The construction of an Olympic park, including a giant stadium, with state-of-the-art athletic facilities was only Beijing’s first step on the road to bolstering its bid. Following the IOC’s recent increased emphasis on “green” Olympics, Beijing is actually beginning to clean up its act environmentally.

The city, among the world’s ten most polluted, has budgeted $5.8 billion for air improvement measures and introduced strict emission standards for cars registered in Beijing. Moreover, because of the bid for the Olympics, the city is designing a 6,000 hectare park near the downtown area and a green belt to surround the city.

But Beijing did not stop there. It recently announced an ambitious program to teach English to all of its citizens. The goal is for all of Beijing’s 12 million inhabitants to have at least basic knowledge of the English language by the time the 2008 Games take place. This is supposed to make it easier for tourists to orientate themselves in the busy metropolis. From taking taxis to ordering at restaurants or even asking for directions, Beijing is supposed to feel like home.

Of course, there is always the chance that all of these measures will fail to impress the IOC to the point where it forgets other troubling aspects of Beijing’s candidacy, such as China’s poor record on human rights, and the absence of a free press.

But even if Beijing once again does not get to play host to the world, the city will be a better place for it. It will be cleaner, greener and might boast a population that — at least to some extent — shares a language with the western world.