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Brits in demand as Beijing prepares for Games

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Mihir Bose | 20:23 UK time, Friday, 27 April 2007

The success of the Sydney Olympics was a great boon for any Australian associated with the Games.

Almost as soon as the Games finished anyone else who wanted to stage sporting events wanted an Australian as an adviser. If the Australian could show his Sydney badge then he was certain to be hired.

Many Australian consultants played a big role in the Athens Olympics. London is still five years from staging the Games but the success of the London 2012 bid, defeating four other major world cities - Paris, Madrid, New York and Moscow - has meant that those who worked for the London bid are much sought after.

Not surprising then that earlier this week when I boarded the BA plane to Beijing to report on an Olympic meeting being held in the Chinese capital, who should I see in front of me but Mike Lee, the man who masterminded the London PR team and has now set up his own PR operation.

Mike is an adviser to Salzburg’s bid for the 2014 Winter Games and is much sought after.

From Beijing he flies to Dakar in Senegal, where he is advising the president of the IAAF, the world governing body for athletics.

You could say Lee’s success is already an example of the legacy the successful bid has created.

Imagine when London do stage a successful games what the legacy will be for those associated with the London Games. Watch out Australians, the British are coming.

This was my third visit to Beijing in the last few years and, as always, I was struck by how fast the city changes.

Gone is the city I first saw back in the spring of 2001 when Beijing was bidding for the Games. Indeed, I would say the city has changed even more dramatically since November 2005, my last visit, with new hotels and high-rise buildings springing up.

As I drove into town from the airport parts of the Beijing landscape had more than a fleeting resemblance to Manhattan.


Yet the Chinese have done their rebuilding in such a way that every new building looks much like the previous newly-built place.

The impression is that you have been there before, only to discover the place has been built since your last visit.

However, what has not changed much yet is the knowledge of English. I was told that 45% of the city's population speak English.

Yet in taking taxis, we had to make sure we always wrote down the place we were hoping to go to in the Chinese language.

Even those who speak English have a limited understanding. I had a vivid illustration of this when I asked at my hotel how I could find out about train times in and out of Beijing. I was directed to go to the business centre. But the lady there told me very fiercely that she had no information on trains and such information was not available.

After some effort and talking to various people at the hotel, I finally discovered that the only way I could find the information was by visiting the Beijing railway station.

I am sure by the time the Games start next summer the volunteers will know a lot more English. I know those of us who come from the English-speaking world expect everyone to speak English, but the Chinese are aware their Olympic visitors are unlikely to speak much Chinese.

Talking of Olympic visitors, one feature of every Games I have covered is that when you arrive in an Olympic city with an Olympic accreditation pass, you are certainly on a different level - a lot higher - than the hoi polloi, ensuring you are welcomed by local officials.

My visit this week was on the occasion of Sport Accord, an annual conference bringing together everyone associated with the Olympic Games and associated international federations.

The moment my producer Jon Buckley and I arrived at the airport we were met by officials of Sport Accord and whisked through immigration and customs.

On the way back there was also a special lane marked Olympic Lane Sport Accord. Just as well, as the queues for security and immigration looked forbidding.


Beijing Airport can be confusing. You have to fill out a form and go through customs before you reach the check-in desks. But wearing our Sport Accord badges, we did not have to worry about the herd and long may such special Olympic treatment continue.

I am told that while the traffic looks impossible at the moment, come the Games it will be such special Olympic treatment that will make sure most of the cars disappear.

The process may be helped by the fact that many of the cars are government-run, and it only requires an order from the top for them to be taken off the roads.

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