GB holding camp: These Games are the biggest gamble sport will ever face

Worries over betting syndicates, drug cheats and rings of security – but little sense of fun

Gambling is seen as almost as much of a threat to the Beijing Olympics as drugs and demonstrations by an International Olympic Committee deeply concerned that betting gangs, so active in this part of the world, may try to manipulate certain results in the Games, as they have in sports such as cricket, football and tennis.

Officially, all bets are off when the Games begin on Friday, which makes it ironic that much of Britain's final countdown to the most lavish sporting event ever witnessed is being undertaken in the Orient's answer to Las Vegas. Macau is a round-the-clock gambling resort just a hop, step and jump across the China Sea from Hong Kong. Once a Portuguese-run playground of the rich and infamous, it is now, like Hong Kong, back in Chinese hands, but the hands which matter are those which spin the roulette wheels and deal cards at blackjack tables.

As it happens, gambling is very much a relevant theme for these Games. Britain are gambling that they can achieve the target set by the Government-backed funding body UK Sport of an eighth-place finish, with 35 medals including a dozen gold. This would be the best result since 1920 and justify the £235 million invested in preparations over the past four years.

These have culminated in the £1m it has cost the British Olympic Association to set up a base in Macau, where 15 sports are utilising state-of-the-art facilities paid for from casino profits. The likelihood is that the Brits can win most of their medals by simply not getting off their backsides – on bikes, in boats and on horseback.

Even the British Government are gambling that a golden windfall in Beijing will divert concerns about just how much it will eventually cost to put on even half as good a show four years hence, with China having already spent more than double London's £9.3bn budget on theirs without even a raised eyebrow.

Not that the Chinese aren't gambling too. Currently their biggest gamble is whetherthe cloying pollution which threatens to relabel these the Smog Games can be lifted to let everyone breathe easily.

As for the IOC, they will be gambling that there will not be a major drugs bust à la Ben Johnson that will further tarnish the ideals of Baron de Coubertin and leave more lips curled in cynicism. And there will be a starting line-up of potential cheats gambling that they will not get caught under the stringent new blanket testing system.

But at least the Macau-based British contingent are not actually gambling. Their beautiful beach resort is 15 minutes away from the neon-lit nightlife and myriad casino hotels – one of which has a Venetian-style canal running through it and a packed gaming floor the size of three football pitches. A boot camp it isn't, but perhaps a luxurious touch of R & R might give the assorted gymnasts, boxers, hockey players and athletes a psychological lift as they put the finishing touches to their training before flying three hours north to Beijing.

Paula Radcliffe arrives to join them today with the odds seemingly stacked against her race against time to get fit. For the rest it has been a valuable opportunity to overcome the seven-hour time difference, to alleviate the odd ache and pain and get in shape. "When we get to Beijing we'll be fired up and ready to go," says boxing hope Frankie Gavin, one of the weight-watchers whose eyes have been more on the salad bowl than dim sum.

When they arrive in Beijing they will encounter three separate rings of security surrounding Olympic City. Those of us covering the Games know the Chinese authorities will be watching every move we make and reading every word we write.

Photographers snapping any unauthorised demos and journalists attempting to tap into banned websites will risk being arrested for an offence described as "disturbing social order", the penalty for which is a year in a labour camp for "re-education" without even a court hearing. Human rights? Even many IOC members privately admit they have gambled and lost on that issue. The Games slogan is One World, One Dream, but come 25 August the probability is that China will still be living in a world of its own and will have achieved its dream of winning more medals than any other nation.

You don't need to be pulling a slot machine here to appreciate that Beijing 2008 is the biggest gamble sport will face. These Games will be the most expansive, expensive, extravagant and surely the most politically vexed of the 11 that I have attended. They will also be successful. Just don't bet on them being fun.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics rally to defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
John Cleese is promoting his new book
A-list actresses such as Deepika Padukone get paid a tenth of what their male counterparts make per film
The Black Friday Vines that will destroy your faith in humanity

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special
Robbie Rogers: US former Leeds United footballer, 25, announced he was gay in February 2013, shortly after he left Elland Road. Rogers 'retired' after writing on his blog: 'I'm a soccer player, I'm Christian, and I'm gay.' Has since signed with Los Angeles Galaxy.
peopleUS footballer said he had hoped Michael Sam and Jason Collins coming out might have helped
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt

The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game