China's great leap (TA) The Age - Australia
July 2001

The International Olympic Committee has issued a blunt warning to China that it must improve its human rights record, just hours after awarding the country the 2008 Olympics.

After the historic decision, calculated to bring China under unprecedented scrutiny, the IOC was confident the communist giant would meet world expectations.

But if China did not improve its record, the IOC has a number of options, including retraction of the right to host the Games.

Norwegian IOC member John Koss, when asked by a journalist if retraction was a possibility if Beijing did not address human rights concerns, said: "They would have to get worse than today; it would be a horrible situation."

At a press conference in Moscow yesterday, IOC director Francois Carrard said: "There is one issue on the table and that is human rights."

Mr Carrard said the IOC had "bet on openness" in voting for Beijing to host the Games.

He said it was not up to the committee to interfere in China's domestic issues, but it wanted to see many changes in the next eight years. "Human rights are a very serious issue throughout the world. It can be approached in two ways - we close the door, we say no and we hope things evolve. But there is another way. Bet on openness, to bet on the upcoming seven years," he said.

Among the concerns are an Amnesty International report that 1781 public executions have taken place in China in the past three months, and that 3000 prisoners are facing the death penalty. The bid campaign was also held against a backdrop of protests by sympathisers of the Falun Gong movement and an independent Tibet.

In New Delhi, home of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, the decision to award China the Games was condemned. "We deeply regret that Beijing is awarded the 2008 Olympic Games," a spokesman for the Central Tibetan Administration, Kalon T.C. Tethong, said in a statement. "This will put the stamp of international approval on Beijing's human rights abuses and will encourage China to escalate its repression."

The US Government, which adopted a neutral tone in the lead-up to the vote, called on China to show a "modern" face when it hosts the Games.

"The President believes that the Olympics are a sporting event, not a political event. But having said that, this now is an opportunity for China to showcase itself as a modern nation," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Human Rights Watch Asia director Sidney Jones warned that if abuses took place during Games preparations, "it won't be just the Chinese authorities who will look bad - the IOC and the corporate sponsors will be complicit".

Most IOC members said the decision had been difficult, but had swung on the belief that awarding the Games to China would accelerate reform.

Australia's Kevan Gosper, who voted for Beijing, said the decision was courageous but the message was "it is time to go to China, they are ready to host the Olympic Games".

Taiwan, which is hoping to stage some events, supported the Chinese victory, as did political leaders in Hong Kong.

With the backing of outgoing IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, Beijing romped home in the second ballot early yesterday, with 56 votes. Toronto received 22, Paris 18 and Istanbul nine. Osaka was eliminated in the first ballot with six votes.

Mr Samaranch had played a key role in bringing China back into the IOC in 1979 after the country had broken off all Olympic dialogue in 1959 because of formal IOC recognition of Taiwan. He was keen for China to get the Games as a final legacy of his 21-year presidential reign. He steps down tomorrow, just one day before his 81st birthday.

Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, congratulated China on its win. "Australia hopes to work with China to promote a harmonious, athlete-oriented and environmentally focused Games in 2008," he said.

Beijing will have a Games budget of $3.8 billion, but has planned to spend $35 billion on roads, subways, new sports stadiums and addressing its pollution and sewerage problems.

Beijing bid committee secretary-general Wang Wei was thrilled with the decision. "I'm very excited, we've been working very hard, and now our efforts have paid off," he said.

"We thought we did an excellent job. With the Games coming to Beijing, the world is going to have a better understanding of our country and our people."

Beijing officials said they would move the beach volleyball from its proposed venue at Tiananmen Square, the scene of violent confrontation between pro-democracy protesters and the military in 1989.

But it is still planned that the triathlon will run through the square.