Olympics Report Card: Success or Failure?
The Beijing Olympics the world saw on television was a runaway success. The athletes broke world records -- including three by just one man, Jamaica's Usain Bolt. The venues sparkled. Pollution was low and throughout most of the games there were brilliant "blue sky" days. China for the first time won the most gold medals of any country participating in the games.
Perhaps the only consistent gripe from tourists, besides all the security checks, was so minor as to be humorous -- the absence of hot dogs, hamburgers and other real food at the venues -- because Chinese government officials were only able to guarantee the safety of a few vendors.
But critics say the games had a darker side. They say the Olympics showcased how willing China is to use its authoritarian hand to hide its problems and intimidate, detain and punish those who might have spoiled their postcard perfect Beijing they hoped to show the world. They say that the Olympics have moved China backwards, not forwards in terms of human rights.
Perhaps most disappointing to critics was that world leaders and the International Olympic Committee for the most part remained silent, posing for happy pictures with Chinese leaders, while reports of heavy-handed efforts to control dissent continued to mount.
Construction sites were covered up with billboards, rundown, old-style hutongs were demolished, dissidents were rounded up and told to stay out of the city or at home. There were few protests but that was not seen as an indicator of harmony throughout the country as the Communist Party claimed -- but instead as a sign of repression.
Even the spectacular Opening Ceremonies were marred by controversy. The young girl who performed "Ode to the Motherland" on TV was actually lip syncing because the real singer was deemed not cute. There was also the news that one of the dancers had been paralyzed during a rehearsal but was told to stay quiet about the tragedy until after the games.
Below is a rundown of the promises China made when it won the right to host the 2008 Games and an assessment of whether or not it fulfilled them.
--Ariana Eunjung Cha
Chinese officials had said they had real fears that terrorist groups would mount attacks during the games but they assured world leaders that they would hold a safe and secure Olympics. They brought in a security force of 100,000 to ensure that everything went smoothly.
Security was omnipresent.
In the first few days of the Olympics, there were a few scary incidents. In the western region of Xinjiang, a police station and some government buildings were attacked but the violence did not spread to the rest of the country as feared. An American tourist, the father-in-law of the U.S. men's Olympic volleyball coach, was killed and his wife seriously injured in a tragic but apparently random attack while they were visiting a popular tourist spot in the capital.
Otherwise, Beijing remained blissfully quiet.
Foreign reporters would be allowed to freely report what was going on during the Olympic games.
The Chinese government upset media outlets early on by banning the live broadcast of images from Tiananmen Square. They also told journalists they would have to register to be able to report from the venue and have an escort. Reporters ignored this new regulation and China never enforced it.
Reporters at the Olympics press center discovered that Amnesty International's Web site -- and others -- were blocked from their computers while reporting on a human rights report the activist group released. There were cries of censorship. The Chinese government unblocked the Amnesty site, BBC, but various pro-Tibet sites and others remained blocked.
There were also a few scuffles involving photographers and a British TV reporter who was mistakenly thrown into a van while covering a protest. The latter incident infuriated some in the foreign press and they pummeled Olympic organizers with criticism about the incident.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said this weekend that the Olympics had been a disaster for free speech.
"This repression will be remembered as one of the defining characteristics of the Beijing games," said Robert Menard, secretary general of the organization.
But by Chinese standards, security officials for the most part have been gentle with the media. Even when there were demonstrations in Tiananmen Square by Christian activists and pro-Tibet groups, police allowed the interviews to take place before carrying off the protestors.
Human rights would improve. Three special protest zones would be set up in parks around the city to allow controlled demonstrations.
There were very few anti-government protests during the Olympics. Beijing officials said this is because all disputes were resolved through dialogue. But the truth is China has been intimidating, arresting and detaining dissidents for months.
There were no protestors in the protest parks. China said it received 77 applications, the great majority of which were withdrawn "voluntarily," and the rest were rejected.
A woman from the eastern city of Suzhou was bullied by local police into returning home before she could file an application. One legal rights advocate was seen taken away by police after trying to file for a permit and never heard from again.
Two ladies in their 70s who went five times to apply for a permit were given a one-year re-education through labor sentence. The order said they could serve their sentence at home, but that if they misbehave authorities would send them to a labor camp.
There would be clean air and clear skies for the Olympics.
For years before the games, experts had been warning that Beijing was so badly polluted that it could affect performance at the games. Many athletes said they would arrive as late as possible. Haile Gebrselassie, Ethiopia's world record holder in the marathon, said he would not run the marathon because he worried about the air quality. There was worry that some events may have to be postponed.
China went all out to make sure this didn't happen. It moved factories, ordered cars off the road, and added new subway lines. It also stopped all construction in the weeks before the games and sent missiles into the air to try to manipulate when and where rain came down.
The Chinese government kept moving the goalposts of what constitutes good air by changing the way they monitor pollution and also by using interim World Health Organization standards when they originally promised to follow WHO standards.
On the other had, while the first day of the games was a bit hazy and it rained a bit during the rest of the games, the weather was unseasonably beautiful much of the time.
The men's marathon, the marquee event of the Olympics, was set in green parks under a glorious blue sky thanks to an overnight thunderstorm. On Sunday, the winner, Kenya's Samuel Wanjiru, finished the 26.2-mile race in 2 hours 6 minutes and 32 seconds -- setting an Olympic world record.
Chinese leaders have the power to control the weather after all.
August 24, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
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