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China's Olympic venues now

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James Reynolds | 14:00 UK time, Tuesday, 14 April 2009

One simple question has defeated most Olympic hosts: what do you do with your collection of expensive and entirely empty stadiums once the Games are over?

Beijing believes it's come up with an answer: let everyone come in and have a good nose around.

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At Beijing's Olympic venues, it is forever 2008. For $12 you can buy a ticket into Beijing's Olympic stadiums and relive some of last year's glories.

At the Water Cube, lines of tourists queue up for ice cream and popcorn. They stream into the main arena, the swimming pool, take their seats and get out their cameras. The trouble is there's nothing much for them to see. The Olympic swimming pool is full of water but there's no-one actually swimming in it.

Spectators in empty Olympic stadiumThe lack of anything to watch - apart from a pool of extremely still water - doesn't seem to bother any of the visitors. One woman, Fan Dongyan, poses in front of the pool with her hands above her head like a diver. She's on her way back home from a trip to Sydney. She's stopped off in Beijing specially to see the Olympic venues.

"I think China's Olympic stadiums are great," she says, "They're magnificent buildings. In Sydney I saw their Olympic stadium from the car. I think there is no comparison to China's stadiums."

The Bird's Nest athletics stadium next to the Water Cube has now become a kind of national cathedral - a Chinese Notre Dame or Westminster Abbey. The owners have decided that it mustn't be desecrated by allowing any of Beijing's not particularly good football teams to play their home games here.

So, for now, around 20,000 people every day buy tickets simply to get the chance to walk around an empty, albeit holy, stadium.

"It's a little weird to pay money to come into the stadium when there's nothing happening," says Mark Peterson, an American tourist from Idaho.

There is one thing you can do inside the stadium. In case you've managed to go through your entire life without winning an Olympic gold medal, you can pay to have your own medal ceremony on a podium set up on the pitch.

Woman standing on podium in Olympic stadium, Beijing

In a few months' time, the stadium's owners plan to start staging occasional concerts - and even an opera. If tourists keep coming, the stadium's investors say they'll get their money back in about 10 years' time.

"Of course we are working hard towards the goal of getting customers to come to the stadium over and over again," says Zhang Hengli, from the CITIC Consortium Stadium Operation Company, "But China has such a big population. I don't need all 1.3bn people to visit. But if only one billion people come just once, I think I can recover my investment costs."

For now, coming to the Beijing Olympic stadium is almost a patriotic duty - a pilgrimage to the symbol of this country's resurrection as a great power. The Olympics may now be on their way to London. But many here in Beijing still want to relive the glories of 2008.

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  • 1. At 3:18pm on 14 Apr 2009, Chewyfatman wrote:

    I dont see the problem with ppl going for a look. For years ppl have done the tour of Wembley and other football stadia around the world. I'm sure the organisers of London 2012 will still be trying to make some money back in the same way when the winners and losers have all been long forgotten.

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  • 2. At 4:09pm on 14 Apr 2009, rizrat123 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 3. At 4:25pm on 14 Apr 2009, ConorLeedsFan wrote:

    excellent article and very informative!!!



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  • 4. At 4:49pm on 14 Apr 2009, lucatoni08 wrote:

    If there is 1.6 billion people in china, and 20,000 of them visit this stadium daily. Well then it should only take roughly 220 years for the stadium to recoup the mo ey invested!!

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  • 5. At 5:07pm on 14 Apr 2009, wuhaocom wrote:

    I live in sydney, IIRC, the sydney olympic centre didn't open to the public very soon after the event finishes.
    I've being into the stadium, and other facilities, there is nothing special about them, apart from "bigger than other stadium".

    but Beijing's infrastructure is different and much more unique, it is like Sydney opera house in comparison. sure the stadium might be very expensive and empty after the event, it wont make much money with 12 rmb ticket, but it is a tourism attraction. so in the end, it can even make money by attracting tourist.

    So for UK, you don't have to criticise that the Bird nest is too expensive, people says the same thing when Sydney opera house was built, it is not just a "bigger than normal" opera house, it is national pride, symbol, and tourism attraction.

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  • 6. At 7:11pm on 14 Apr 2009, galezhang wrote:

    Well certainly there won't be events on EVERY DAY of the year at these venues, but a report on xinhuanet.com today was saying there will be a Jackie Chan and Friends concert around the Labour Day holiday and on the 8th of August a performance of Turandot directed by Zhang Yimou will take place in the Birds Nest. The running of the Bird's Nest has been contracted to a private company (or a group of companies?). Surely we won't have to worry about ways to make money out of it for them?

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  • 7. At 7:23pm on 14 Apr 2009, mikelia wrote:

    James

    You are killing me with your mischievous humors here. I am laughing so hard that I am having a stomach ache. With this article, I’ll give you an A+ on your Chinese cultural understanding and assay.

    I said previously when the game started that China has spent(wasted) billions and billions of dollars to try to "hit oneself on the face to puff it up so that he looks fatter", while these much needed monies could have been used to improve basic infrastructure, especially the healthcare systems. Instead, they chose to spend it to demonstrate the nationalist pride (to save face) as a result of thousand year old Chinese tradition and the inferiority complex due to century old foreign subjugation.

    If they have to spend 200 years to recoup the construction cost, I suggest that they team up with Disneyland for a Theme Park, Circus & Circus, Space Mountain or Sea World, etc. and charge more for admission to speed up the recovery process. At least, these poor people will not be just sitting on the bench and stare at the still pool waters.

    But if these buildings were considered as the enshrined Holy Westminster Abbey as you indicated and that is an entirely different matter. But never mind about China, now it is UK’s term to show case it to the world! Being proud British, you must make sure that your next bird nest will be an eagle nest and your water cube will be as grandiose as the Niagara Falls. After all, UK’s sun never sets!

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  • 8. At 7:32pm on 14 Apr 2009, wikct2 wrote:

    At least, not like in other countries, people in Beijing don't have to pay for the constructions of the Olympic venues. The Montreal Olympic Stadium took more than 15 years to pay off through taxes. The city almost broke because of it. It is normal that there are no many events that can be as big scale as the Olympics. But I am sure China will make good use of it.

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  • 9. At 8:04pm on 14 Apr 2009, aeroarchie wrote:

    #4 lucatoni08

    The Bird's Nest cost USD423 million and the Water Cube cost USD200 million.

    If 20,000 people visit the stadiums daily at USD12 per person, it would generate USD87.6 million per year.

    The payback period is about 7 years.

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  • 10. At 8:14pm on 14 Apr 2009, DCHeretic wrote:

    I would definitely want to see the Bird's Nest and Water Cube if I visited China. They are architectural marvels and beautiful structures in their own right. Most sports complexes are impressive simply due to their size, but there are a few that are noteworthy for their aesthetic appeal. I grew up in California and always got a special thrill when I saw the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

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  • 11. At 9:19pm on 14 Apr 2009, QinGuangWang wrote:

    The Chinese people were very proud to have the olympics. It is a very large country and Beijing is still the cultural center. Not all of China is modern, much of it is still poor. The modern facilities provide a sense of national identity and hope for the future. The past 100 years have not been all that kind to China and new opportunities in education and employment have been embraced by the people. It has been bad governments and foreign intervention that has held back the Chinese people, not their own willingnees to work for a better future.
    When visitng in England the Manchester United club wanted, I think it was about $7.50 to go into their empty stadium.

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  • 12. At 9:38pm on 14 Apr 2009, modagr8 wrote:

    Too bad, just like in Montreal they will be paying for it for the next 30 years.

    Nothing in L A neither.



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  • 13. At 10:26pm on 14 Apr 2009, endyjai wrote:

    I'd live to visit.

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  • 14. At 11:01pm on 14 Apr 2009, pchen442 wrote:

    "For now, coming to the Beijing Olympic stadium is almost a patriotic duty - a pilgrimage to the symbol of this country's resurrection as a great power. The Olympics may now be on their way to London. But many here in Beijing still want to relive the glories of 2008."

    James, James, James... that kind of thing just ruins the entire good article... WHY WHY WHY??? Why did you have to put that at the end. That's why so many Chinese think that the BBC is on a campaign to spread stereotype about China depicting it as an extremely nationalistic country with its citizens hot-headed and pro-government etc etc.

    By the way James... I saw that you're a graduate from Christ college. I would just like to let you know that I'm doing my A2 this year and I got an offer from your beloved college to do Land Economy starting October 2009. We'll be 'Xiao Yao' soon! (well... that's assuming I meet the offer lol).

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  • 15. At 11:41pm on 14 Apr 2009, Wil wrote:

    Interesting. Well for Mr. Peterson, I would like to say. Look at the people, this is Chinese. You go to China to look at the chinese and tour the great wall. So now you get to see the chinese wihtout the showcasing of the government or other agenda groups.

    I myself would not go in if I vist China.

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  • 16. At 02:01am on 15 Apr 2009, SooooooCold wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 17. At 02:26am on 15 Apr 2009, uncannyincubus wrote:

    I am a keen kayaker who lives in China. While I was at the kayaking venue for the Beijing olympics I tried to find out what would be done with the world-class whitewater slalom course when the olympics finished. Imagine my disappointment when I was told that it would be ripped out and turned into a waterpark. I couldn't believe that they would build such an incredible course for just 6 days of competitions. I and all the other kayakers I know would happily pay for the chance to go on the course, much as we do at Nottingham and other whitewater courses around the UK. The course would also provide an ideal training venue for the Chinese olympic kayaking and rowing teams.
    Here in Qingdao the sailing centre is still being used regularly, both by sailors and as a venue to host events. I have also paid the $12 to go into the birds nest, which was totally worth it, even though there was nothing on at the time.
    All in all I believe that whatever they do with the olympic venues, the aim won't be to recoup losses, but to promote national pride and hopefully provide top sporting venues for future training and competitions.

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  • 18. At 02:44am on 15 Apr 2009, dennisjunior1 wrote:

    James:
    One simple question has defeated most Olympic hosts: what do you do with your collection of expensive and entirely empty stadiums once the Games are over?

    Beijing believes it's come up with an answer: let everyone come in and have a good nose around.


    I think it is a brilliant idea, and it is a money-making venture for the Chinese Government to bring in money to refund the cost of the venues following the Olympics....

    -Dennis Junior-

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  • 19. At 09:10am on 15 Apr 2009, Cape Town 2020 wrote:

    All I can say, hence London 2012, temporary athletics stadium with 25,000 permanent seats.

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  • 20. At 10:25am on 15 Apr 2009, Cantab wrote:

    I would never visit the stadiums, knowing the money should have been spent on better welfare for my fellow Chinese citizens. What glory or joy is there, knowing hundreds of millions can not even afford the ticket? Is this the result Chinese people want after 5000 years of culture and history?

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  • 21. At 2:36pm on 15 Apr 2009, bluejeansbj wrote:

    This article is unnecessarily sour. There is nothing wrong with selling tickets for visiting those stadiums, as long as there is a market for the tickets. I took my entire family to the birds' nest last October. We had a nice and relaxing time there. My 92 year old grandma was absolutely stunned by the magnificence of the stadium.

    But one thing that makes me happy is that at least James now admits that there is "glory" to be relived; I still remember his many gloomy predictions about the Olympics before the games started last year. Alas, the games turned out to be a success, all your predictions proved wrong, and all that you can do now is to make fun of how the Chinese recoup the investment.

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  • 22. At 2:44pm on 15 Apr 2009, beijing_2008 wrote:

    #20 LondonYC,
    There will always exist poverty in China, just as there exists poverty in every country of the world. That does not mean that we should not dare to dream.
    Remember it was not long ago that China was termed "The Sick Man of Asia", and the image of the Chinese as somehow physically inferior was sowed in the minds of many.
    But we saw last year, not just in the Olympics, but also with the earthquake rescue and the spacewalk, that there exists a timely creed that sums up the spirit of the Chinese people: that if we work together, then there is no hardship we can not endure; no challenges we can not meet; and no dreams that we dare not pursue.
    I am often reminded of the sacrifices that generations of Chinese have had to make, from those in Prehistoric China, to Ancient China, to Dynastic China, to now Modern China - each generation believing that a different, better place, beckons us and that we will not find it in the hills of Shandong, or the lakes of Jiangxi, but rather we will find it in our hearts.

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  • 23. At 3:17pm on 15 Apr 2009, aeroarchie wrote:

    Don't just look at the cost side. Hosting the Olympics brought many benefits to China and the ordinary Chinese people.

    The Water Cube (costing USD200 million) was largely donated by overseas Chinese (including Hongkong and Macau) community.

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  • 24. At 5:11pm on 15 Apr 2009, i_amTenzin wrote:

    chinese olympic was doomed with only failure experience,,,,,,,,hope people would go there to hear what CPC says

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  • 25. At 8:12pm on 15 Apr 2009, Chusumgu wrote:

    China spent over $40 billion to build these Olympic venues and displaced nearly 2 million Beijing residents to do this. In any democracy, such a huge public expense and such forced displacements would be controversial at best & would involve intense media scrutiny. In China, there was nothing. Not a single media story about the expenses or the displacements. In China, the PRC Govt can do whatever it likes & if Chinese people don't like it, well that's just too bad.

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  • 26. At 02:44am on 16 Apr 2009, yip144 wrote:

    Thank you for the great article.

    And to London YC, I don't think the ticket price was the reason that most of the Chinese citizen not being able to attend the olympics.

    There's 1.3billion people in China, not to mention that olympics is an global event.

    Get some common sense.

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  • 27. At 3:28pm on 16 Apr 2009, aeroarchie wrote:

    #25 Chusumgu

    The total sum spent on Beijing Olympics venues was about USD2 billion. USD40 billion was spent on other infrastructure (Terminal 3 of Beijing airport, new subway lines, etc, and greening the city).

    Chinese media did report the cost of hosting the event. I have read such reports myself. Chinese people were generally very happy and proud to be the host country.

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  • 28. At 8:02pm on 16 Apr 2009, pchen442 wrote:

    "China spent over $40 billion to build these Olympic venues and displaced nearly 2 million Beijing residents to do this. In any democracy, such a huge public expense and such forced displacements would be controversial at best & would involve intense media scrutiny. In China, there was nothing. Not a single media story about the expenses or the displacements. In China, the PRC Govt can do whatever it likes & if Chinese people don't like it, well that's just too bad."

    Well that's what the Chinese people want - we want to put on a spectacular Olymics. That's what MOST people want. I don't think I can find any government in this world which represents the interests of its people's interests than that of the CPC. In 'democracies' the media would exaggerate things. They would magnify the voice of a few individuals and claim that's what the people want. How is it a democracy if minorities always have things their way by claiming in the name of the majority? It seems to me that in 'democratic' countries those who are the most vociferous always get what they want... look at the protests in Greece, Germany, France, UK, USA etc That's not democracy that's ANARCHY! Just because there's a protest doesn't mean it's the people's wish. If a government changes its mind just because of a few protests then it's not a good government - it's a coward - like most Western 'democratic' governments.

    We Chinese people are against Western notions of democracy, human rights, freedom of speech, rule of law etc etc We have our own interpretation of these and in fact these things aren't in common usage at all in the Chinese language as soon as we use these words we know we're dealing with Western concepts even though Westerners like to claim that they are 'universal' and 'accepted by all cultures'. No my friends no! These are Western concepts and when you export these values and ideals to China we will tax them the way you tax our manufacturing goods! We will only let some of them in - the ones we find useful. We will not let any value into China unless there is a net gain...

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  • 29. At 10:56pm on 16 Apr 2009, CaravanPark wrote:

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  • 30. At 01:52am on 18 Apr 2009, Pacific_Century wrote:

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  • 31. At 10:50am on 20 Apr 2009, ShuyuanLiu wrote:

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  • 32. At 12:36pm on 21 Apr 2009, Pacific_Century wrote:

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  • 33. At 7:29pm on 22 Apr 2009, TopCat1802 wrote:

    At least they have not demolished the birds nest stadium yet!

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  • 34. At 12:18pm on 23 Apr 2009, BraveJeWorld wrote:

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  • 35. At 8:17pm on 23 Apr 2009, davep01 wrote:

    It's very "now", isn't it? We've gone from experiencing sport by sitting in a chair watching it, to participating in the spectator experience by visiting a stadium where something happened eight months ago. Now I've read a blog post about people visiting an empty stadium I suppose I've had a part too in the athletic accomplishments of Beijing '08: that makes me a thoroughly sporty guy in 21st-century terms, I guess.

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  • 36. At 09:25am on 24 Apr 2009, David wrote:

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  • 37. At 10:47am on 24 Apr 2009, Dutch-ish wrote:

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  • 38. At 12:29pm on 24 Apr 2009, mooncake wrote:

    well, I think it is a very good idea, and it is been orgnised in a very Chinese way. the admission charge is not expensive, when most of people come to visit Beijing from other provinces. They just like come to see it and feel it as if they were here while the game was on.

    add anything else more for greater economic and commercial benefits would be seen as thirsty for money of a businessman's behaviors, which will be seen despicable in traditional chinese view.

    although I had no further information of the exact ownerships of inflow of the cash generated from this,and any attemption of how the money should be used. but part of this income I guess would be used for general maintainence, protection and security. At least stop inappropriate activites anyhwere near those great landscapes.

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  • 39. At 01:11am on 27 Apr 2009, redtibetan wrote:

    Chinese communist and communist North Korea have same image conciousness. North korean leaders love to do big things but thier people are suffering with shortages of basic food supplies same thing goes with china too. 20 million people are out of job and almost the size US population are dependent on 1 dollar a day. chinese government could have used some of those money to these poor people. major winner in this so called great olympic venues are government officials and few business people who have close links with communist regime. corruption is the key here in this massive venues

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  • 40. At 05:06am on 27 Apr 2009, tommydeee wrote:

    I have just returned from taking a school party around China and while in Beijing we happily queued to visit the Birds Nest. Proving that 14 year old students, were students, proved too difficult for the Chinese and sadly due to intransigence and dogma they were unable to charge anything other than full adult price for the students. That said and done the Birds Nest is an amzing spectacle and beautiful piece of architecture and well worth visiting as one of the wonders of the modern sporting world. Is it any less worth visiting than palaces, stately homes, parks or monuments. The wonders of modern technology and architecture such as The Birds Nest, Sydney Opera House, The Millenium Bridge, Pottsdammer Platz and the like all have their place alongside The Taj Mahal, Buckingham Palace and the White House. They certainly hold more interest to the young people of this world than ancient Emporers and Monarchs extravagant palaces and homes.

    Well worth a visit if you are there.

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  • 41. At 09:48am on 27 Apr 2009, Dave Harris wrote:

    James...l thought l might meet you when l arrived in Beijing (naive of me l guess !) and it seems that l missed you by a day at the Birds Nest.

    How good is this stadium and what does it meen to visit? Well....l walked from Beijing Railway Station (south east of Bejing) and blistered my feet so badly that after standing up from a sitting postion on the 'pitch' after taking photos l could hardly walk. I was so excited to see the Birds Nest that l didn't notice the pain. Silly me l know !

    The next day l discovered the subway system !

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  • 42. At 6:54pm on 27 Apr 2009, aeroarchie wrote:

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  • 43. At 12:13pm on 28 Apr 2009, bluejeansbj wrote:

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  • 44. At 2:58pm on 28 Apr 2009, chinabuzz wrote:

    It is interesting to note the Chinese people buzzing around these Olympic icons of China. The country has changed. During the time of Cultural Revolution, structures of such size were used for mass intimidation by trialing ill fated few. Now everything is seen in term of money. Money matter more and Mao now. Keep up the entrepreneur spirit. Hope part of income thus generated be spent on those forced out of their homes.

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  • 45. At 3:50pm on 28 Apr 2009, mikelia wrote:

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  • 46. At 04:53am on 29 Apr 2009, Dutch-ish wrote:

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  • 47. At 5:49pm on 29 Apr 2009, mikelia wrote:

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  • 48. At 6:39pm on 29 Apr 2009, pchen442 wrote:

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  • 49. At 00:13am on 30 Apr 2009, beijing_2008 wrote:

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  • 50. At 06:47am on 30 Apr 2009, bluejeansbj wrote:

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  • 51. At 08:29am on 01 May 2009, philbysorge wrote:

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  • 52. At 06:28am on 03 May 2009, SooooooCold wrote:

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  • 53. At 7:56pm on 03 May 2009, ricky-tanzil wrote:

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  • 54. At 4:42pm on 04 May 2009, Shi-Hsia wrote:

    I think it's cool that the public are allowed access to the facilities, but why not let them be used for their original purposes as well? I'm sure people would be thrilled at the chance to kick a football around the Bird's Nest or swim in the Water Cube.

    By the way, could we NOT turn every single comment thread on James' blog into a massive flamewar over Chinese human rights?

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  • 55. At 03:23am on 05 May 2009, LOLchina wrote:

    A sporting arena wouldn't be bad, a place for sports events to take place!

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