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IOC still believe in Beijing

Richard Burgess | 09:55 UK time, Friday, 17 August 2007

Challenging is probably the kindest way to describe the next 12 months for the International Olympic Committee (IOC). By this time next year, we will know whether their decision to award the 2008 Olympic Games to Beijing was a masterstroke - or hopelessly misguided.

When Jacques Rogge took on the IOC's top job some six years ago, he was well aware of the controversy surrounding that decision. But over the coming weeks and months, as Rogge's Beijing in-tray bulges, the spotlight on China's capital city will only intensify.

Last week, the vice president of the European Parliament urged nations to boycott the Games in protest at China's human rights record. Days before that, Rogge himself was warning that sporting events might have to be postponed because of the city's chronic smog problems.

There continues to be concern about the drug-testing (or lack of it) for athletes in China - the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Dick Pound, will be back in the country next month to check on progress.

And now, the World Health Organisation have told us that even the health of spectators - not to mention athletes - could be at threat because of the levels of air pollution.

IOC president Jacques Rogge is sure China can deliver a memorable Olympics

This is serious stuff for the IOC: imagine the PR disaster, not to mention the compensation claims, if fans start falling ill during the Olympics.

Nobody seems to doubt that the Chinese authorities will stage an impressive Games. Unlike many of their predecessors, they are determined the preparations won't be beset by last-minute building crises or wrangling over cash - some estimates put their budget at more than £20 billion.

But if the games are overshadowed by drug scandals, human rights protests or clouds of smog descending on the city, then all that money will count for nothing.

Rogge, however, remains optimistic. He claims the Games will be a “force for good” in China and that he “could not be happier” about the state of preparations.

Such public statements are typical of a man who has led the IOC with poise and admirable propriety. His sternest test, though, is yet to come.

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