BBC BLOGS - Mihir Bose
« Previous | Main | Next »

China seeks to prove point to West

Post categories:

Mihir Bose | 12:14 UK time, Tuesday, 5 August 2008

The opening ceremony of the 120th session of the International Olympic Committee in Beijing on Monday was not an event that compares with Friday's eagerly-awaited opening ceremony of the Games.

It wasn't designed as a media occasion, yet in many ways it was significant for the light it throws on China, the IOC and the relationship between the two.

It emphasised what China expects from the Olympics. Chinese President Hu Jintao's speech made it clear China sees sport as playing a major part in the country's economic and social development and believes the Olympics can act as a bridge between China and the rest of the world.

The Chinese president used the event to lavish great praise on the IOC and president Jacque Rogge talking of the IOC's "guidance and warm support" for China.


Hosting the Olympics has been a century-old dream and the Chinese leadership feel a sense of gratitude and reverence towards the IOC which may be hard for us in Britain to understand. I cannot imagine our Queen expressing similar sentiments when the IOC session is held in London in 2012.

Combined with this, there is clearly a great Chinese desire to prove that it can do anything the West can. So as is common at such events, after the speeches came a cultural show.

I have been to many such IOC sessions over many continents over the years and generally the cultural show is a chance for the country to put on something that is unique to its own culture.

But the Chinese decided to go Western. On stage came the Chinese orchestra, dressed in tails, performing classical Western music. Had the air-conditioning not been working so well, I might well have thought I was watching the Proms at the Albert Hall.

The conclusion I reached was that China wants to show it can "do Western" and bears out the view of American academic Susan Brownell, author of What the Olympics Mean to China, that China is not arrogant as Westerners often think.

Instead China suffers from a lack of confidence and wants Western recognition of its abilities. I am no expert on classical music but talking to those who are, they agreed the performance was of the highest standard.

Power play

The presence of the Chinese president and the country's top officials and the way they treated the IOC underlined the unique nature of this organisation.

The IOC is the sporting equivalent of the Vatican if you like.

Like the Pope, the IOC has no armed forces but it can still issue visas which governments have to respect. So I, along with thousands of others who are accredited to the Games, have entered China on the basis of a laminated Olympic card.

Olympic officials will tell you with great pride how their meetings are used by governments to announce changes in policy. A year ago when the Olympic movement was in town the Chinese prime minister used the occasion to announce freer press laws.

Money matters

What may change in Beijing is the financial power the Americans have exercised over the Olympics.

Ever since the Los Angeles Games rescued the IOC from near bankruptcy in the mid-80s, the United States Olympic Committee has enjoyed a privileged financial status compared to other national Olympic committees.

It gets a top slicing of the money the IOC gets from its sponsors and its American television contract. Only after the Americans have taken their cut is the rest of the money is distributed to other Olympic committees.

Until now the justification for this has been that it is American companies that are providing the money so the US Olympic committee should benefit, but in recent years the IOC has acquired non-American sponsors, particularly Asian ones.

Over the next few days, talks will take place in Beijing about a new share out of the money. The IOC felt it had to come to China because it could not ignore it. It may leave Beijing with a new financial power structure reflecting the economic power of China and Asia in general.


or register to comment.

More from this blog...

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.