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Olympics: It was Bread and Circuses in Beijing

August 26, 2008

The Telegraph (UK)
August 24, 2008

This just a few hours before the Olympic closing ceremony in Beijing
gets underway and the Chinese hand over the Olympic baton to bumbling
Boris. Let's just hope that he's less butterfingered than our sprint
relay team.

Iconic moments could not remove the sense of emptiness in Beijing

But what to make of the Chinese Olympics?

I suspect that despite a few 'local difficulties' which I've touched
on in these Beijing blogs, there will be back-slaps all round at the
next Politburo meeting because whatever the carping of a few
journalists and protesters, the Games has been a triumph.

  You have to admire the Chinese Communist Party. They've thumbed
their noses spectacularly at the IOC and the international community
and got away with it completely.

  They've arrested septuagenarian grannies, put a military
stranglehold on Tibet, broken promises over website access and jailed
their foreign guests without but, rightly or wrongly, in the global
scheme of things these are but minor blemishes.

Even though the US has today finally raised its voice against the
grand charade - formally expressing its 'disappointment' over China's
failure to deliver on its pre-Olympic promises on basic freedoms -
this will do little to challenge to over-riding narrative.

The Party's formula for success at these Games - and indeed in 21st
China as a whole - is as old as the Roman Empire. They set out to
provide 'Bread and circuses' and, from the first drumbeat of the
opening ceremony, what a circus they laid on.

The iconic performances of Usain Bolt on the track and Michael Phelps
on the pool, coupled with spectacular success of Team GB will ensure
that these Games will forever be remembered for the 'right reasons',
at least from a Chinese point of view.

But circuses are inherently melancholy places - every clown sheds a
tear - and from the perspective of this reporter the big top in
Beijing has had more than its share of emptiness.

I shall remember Phelps and Bolt of course, but equally I'll recall
the eerily people-less plazas around the Olympic venues, the rows of
unfilled seats in the stadiums (which were then filled by carefully
vetted rent-a-mob fans); the petty lies of officialdom, the paranoia,
the arrests and those barren fields of the Hebei peasant-farmers
whose water was all sent to Beijing.

It might seem a sour note to end on, but in buying our tickets to the
circus - global TV audiences up 30 per cent on Athens according to a
triumphant IOC - we're all to a greater or lesser extent complicit in
the great Beijing whitewash.

Personally, I just wish the Beijing Olympics had left a cleaner taste
in the mouth.
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