Inside Beijing: Po-faced police are 'scaring foreigners'
Sunday 17 August 2008
Political banners are meantto be banned in Beijing, especially on the podium, but the one unfurled after yet another home-grown triumph on Friday at the University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, where the weightlifters sweat and strain, had ominous overtones.
It translated as: "Nothing can stop the power of China." Indeed not, as we are being made aware in both the sporting arenas and on the streets. A successful Olympics in terms of medals and organisation will ensure the world, and London in particular, gets the message. Brilliantly orchestrated as they are, these Games leave many of us uneasy. Everything goes like clockwork, so much so that sometimes you yearn for the odd blip. Never mind human rights, what Beijing lacks is humanity. Try getting a smile out of a policeman. So impassive are the security forces that one International Olympic Committee member told organisers they need to lighten up. "The police and militia have such stony faces they are scaring the foreigners," says Norway's Gerhard Heiberg. Whatwas the reaction to his request for more smiles? "They just laughed."
Russia's man finds Georgia on their minds
Russia's newly appointed sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, has been given the express instruction from prime minister Vladimir Putin to secure football's 2018 World Cup over England. But Mutko, who also runs the country's football association and is best mates with Roman Abramovich, has found it hard here to smooth-talk the Fifa members on the IOC after the events in Georgia. The Russians are desperate for some good PR and so keen to finish ahead of the US in the medals table that they doubled the government bonuses awarded to winning athletes to more than £80,000.
Question time for hard-pressed Jowell
No doubt aware her job may be under threat in any Government reshuffle – the Prime Minister is believed to want a more strident Labour voice on the Tory-dominated London 2012 board – the Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell has done her best to make her presence felt among the media here. She even claims partial responsibility for obtaining greater media freedom in China following her "behind-the- scenes" diplomacy with authorities. Unfortunately this statement coincided with the roughing up of an ITN reporter and Chinese journalists having notebooks and tape recorders confiscated by blue-uniformed "volunteers" as they left a press conference with the US volleyball team after questions were asked about the killing of the coach's father in a Beijing street.
Boxers off the menu but it's still dog eat dog
Just around the corner from where Olympic fists fly in the Workers' Gymnasium in Beijing is one of the city's most renowned restaurants, the Royal Canine. Ask for a hot dog and you get the real thing. Fortunately it is closed for the duration of the Games to avoid upsetting the gastronomic sensitivities of we foreigners. Next door, other boxers are on the menu, and there it really is dog eat dog, with furious protests at scoring that is bizarre rather than bent. So angry are some of the combatants that we suspect the Chinese may have another Boxer Rebellion on their hands.
High fives or a bunch of fives for athletics chief?
Of all the British sports chiefs under pressure here, the situation of UK Athletics' performance director, Dave Collins, is the most acute. The buzz in Beijing is that the ex-Royal Marine needs a minimum return of at least five medals from his team or he will be axed and replaced by a top foreign coach by October.
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