Friday, August 15, 2008

Olympics round-up - Week 1

Since the local TV coverage is pretty abysmal, and I've been too ill to venture off into the bright lights of the eastern side of town to try to find a sports bar showing a Western satellite station with English commentary, I have been relying mainly on the Internet to keep me up to date with events related to the Olympics.

The regularly interesting Peking Duck (it doesn't quite make it as one of my favourite or most regularly visited sites because I can usually find most of the same news/observations elsewhere..... and its comment forum regularly degenerates into a scary Bedlam!) had this interesting anthology of Olympic news stories at the start of the week. I thought the most interesting of these was the piece at the end (though the poster, Raj, strangely omitted the link to the complete article) by a former senior cadre, now a leading dissident under perpetual house arrest, Bao Tong, criticizing the methods that China has used to boost its medal performance:

"It is very naive to take the number of gold medals won as an indicator of the rise of China. That sort of patriotism... has nothing to do with the Olympic spirit..... You can't use the achievements of our young people to cover up or to dilute the mistakes of the country's leaders."

Well said! I haven't been able to turn up this article anywhere (Raj, where the heck did you find it??), but there's a long and fascinating interview with Bao on other issues here.

I also rather liked this piece from the Wall Street Journal about how some of the home crowd are being persuaded to cheer for China's bitterest enemy, Japan.

My blog-friends (and occasional real-world drinking partners) Jeremiah and Brendan both made the rather odd decision to 'live blog' the Opening Ceremony, rather than going out to enjoy it in a bar, or just out on the streets. (I fear it's one of the more worrying developments of our hi-tech age that there's a danger of becoming obsessed with the online 'community' to the detriment of maintaining flesh-and-blood interaction with people - but who am I to talk?!) At least they didn't do it on Twitter; that really would have been SAD. And they both produced some pretty funny moments - J here and B here. Be it noted that witnesses in the bar where I was watching will attest that I said "That's CGI!" almost immediately the aerial shot of the firework "footprints" began. Even I, however, was shocked, shocked to discover that the cute little girl who sang the opening anthem was also A FAKE!! (An amusing insight into the bizarre anxieties of the CCP leadership which shape such events was provided in this piece by Anne Condi, an American invited to take part in a CCTV pre-Olympic gala programme recently.)

Since that rapturous opening night, however, interest amongst the populace at large has been much more low-key. There's not really much 'buzz' about the city, at least not yet - as reported by my journalist friend Mary-Anne Toy for The Melbourne Age the other day.

Not too many problems with the foreign media so far (perhaps the authorities are making an extra effort to be 'restrained' after all the bother they got into last week over the beating up by police of a couple of Japanese reporters in Xinjiang). Oops, spoke too soon: I've just discovered that a reporter from Britain's ITN TV news team was detained on Wednesday to prevent him from covering a Tibetan protest at the Ethnic Culture Park, just south of the Olympic Green. There's a slightly fuller treatment of these media access issues from Tim Sullivan of the AP here. And I gather that one of my journalist friends recently had a very alarming experience while trying to report on the plight of those attempting to present petitions of grievance to the central government during the Olympics: the police there were extremely displeased, and it did seem likely that the Chinese translator was in line for a very serious kicking, if they could have got him out of sight of his foreign employer for a while.

On a happier note, the competitions have gone on smoothly and thrown up a lot of great performances (and we don't appear to have had any judging cock-ups or doping scandals to mar the enjoyment yet either) - although I have been largely ignorant of such things thanks to the heavily China-centric bias of the local TV coverage (I daresay America is very nearly as bad, perhaps even worse. And the UK is certainly not immune from such national chauvinism; although since our medal count is so modest these days, we have more latitude to show an even-handed interest in the performance of other nations. However, I've found it very difficult to find any significant coverage of anything other than Chinese medal wins on CCTV this week - I think my exposure to Michael Phelps has been limited to a couple of 1.5-second shots of him standing on the victory rostrum!). Thus, I find myself at least partly grateful that Moonrat has conceived an indecent crush on Sasha Artemev - without her heads-up, I might have known nothing of his truly phenomenal performance. (I am also, of course, just a little jealous. Though I fear I am now too old to get my pommel horse routines back up to the standard that might impress the lovely MR!)

And finally, returning to the weekend's tragic knife attack on a pair of American visitors at the Drum Tower, I was appalled to see that John Coates, head of the Australian delegation, had responded by ordering Australian competitors to wear their team uniforms at all times when at large in the city, to try to distinguish themselves from Americans. He suggested (probably rightly, but... ) that Australians are more popular in China than Americans, that Americans are far more likely to be prone to such attacks (again, sadly, true). But does he really suppose that a Chinese person is going to be able to distinguish an Australian uniform from an American one (or any other kind of tourist garb, come to that; we all dress funny, as far as most of them are concerned), any more than they can differentiate between an Australian accent and an American one (and 99 times out of 100 they haven't got a clue)? Particularly a mentally deranged Chinese person?? It was an utterly fatuous thing to do, and, in the circumstances, monumentally insensitive as well (something the Australians are known for, dare I say?). I haven't seen anyone around town sporting an Olympic uniform, and I very much hope that everyone is defying Mr Coates's objectionable edict. If you do encounter any Australian athletes so attired, I hope you will jeer at them loudly.

Oh well, that's about all for this week. More next week. Maybe.

1 comment:

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