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Beijing Games Will Change China, IOC Chief Predicts

Olympic president sees better global view of mainland

Peter Simpson in Beijing – SCMP – Updated on Aug 05, 2008

The 2008 Beijing Games will change China, and the world’s understanding of the host country, the International Olympics Committee president predicted yesterday.

But as the smog returned with a vengeance over the capital, Jacques Rogge refused to say in which way – or by how much – China would be transformed over the next three weeks and thereafter.

“The proof is in the eating,” he said during an interview with the South China Morning Post. “We will make an assessment after the Games,” he said. “But I believe these Olympics will change the country, and will also change the perception of the world towards this country.”

Dr Rogge said the IOC and the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games had faced many problems, such as media restrictions, and the stubborn pollution. But such issues had “lent their own characteristics to the challenges the IOC has faced in ensuring the movement leaves lasting legacies”, he said.

He fell short of mentioning the two Games where the Olympic movement is credited with ushering in sweeping social transformations or influencing regime changes – Tokyo in 1964 and Seoul in 1988.

But he drew on his 40 years of Olympic experience to compare Beijing’s preparation hurdles with those of other host cities that faced challenges.

“I have been at many Games and I have had other issues [to deal with]. I was in 1976 Montreal with the [cold war] boycott,” said the former three-time Olympic sailor, who is overseeing his second Games since becoming IOC president in 2001.

“I was in 1980 Moscow, also with [the same] boycott, and I was also in 1972 Munich when there was the killing of 11 Israeli colleagues.

“All Olympics have their problems. 2004 Athens had its problems with the venues being finished at the very last minute. But it was still a marvellous Games. Organising the event is never easy, but we will manage all the problems here.”

A green legacy would be one triumph for the Chinese, who daily battle environmental degradation and resulting health concerns.

As Dr Rogge made his bold prediction, the capital’s notorious smog once more enveloped the Olympic centrepiece “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium, after a spate of clear days.

The Post asked Dr Rogge to look out the window and assess whether the thick, ugly shroud posed a problem to athletes’ health.

“We have 27 meteorological stations monitoring the atmosphere 24 hours a day,” he said. “Our medical commission has indicated that there is no health problem for every event lasting under an hour and taking place at indoor arenas.”

He repeated the plan to postpone or move those events lasting more than an hour – such as the marquee marathon race and road cycling. But Dr Rogge said he was convinced the 10,000-plus sports stars would compete in safety.

With international monitors claiming the pollution level was well above the WHO’s interim safety limit of 150 yesterday, the Beijing Environmental Protection Department put the smog danger level at a “moderate” 83.

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