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Beijing 2008

The International Olympic Committee awards the 2008 Olympics to Beijing.

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  • JULIAN MANYON:

    Here in Beijing, Friday the 13th turned out to be China's lucky day. The government took the gamble of staging a celebratory concert in front of the city's millennium monument. And as Juan Antonio Samaranch announced the result in Moscow, the crowd went completely wild.

    This is an organized event with an audience selected by the Chinese government, but the jubilation is whole-hearted and genuine nonetheless. All day the people of Beijing have been asking themselves if this time they really could win the games, and tonight, the answer is that they have.

  • WOMAN:

    I'm very happy. It's… One moment ago, it's just like a dream, but now we have realized it. It's just too good to be true.

  • JULIAN MANYON:

    Too good to be true?

  • WOMAN:

    I just can't believe it!

  • JULIAN MANYON:

    The Olympic vote is a major boost for China's communist leadership, and President Jiang Zemin himself appeared at the celebrations to congratulate the people of Beijing. The result, which will bring in billions of dollars, is a triumph for the government's propaganda efforts. A slick video sold Beijing to the world as an optimistic, modern city.

    And the authorities worked to deflect criticism of their record on human rights, which has come in for sharp criticism in the West. The Chinese government argued that giving Beijing the games would be the best way to encourage openness. The world will now be waiting to see if winning the Olympic vote will really help to bring change in China.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    For more on China's winning Olympic bid, we turn to John Hoberman, a professor of Germanic studies and an Olympic historian at the University of Texas in Austin; and Sally Jenkins, a sports columnist for The Washington Post.

    Sally Jenkins, IOC delegates were said to be dazzled by Paris, confident that Toronto could live up to all its promises. How did Beijing win this competition?

  • SALLY JENKINS:

    Well, I think in part it won the competition because Juan Antonio Samaranch I think wanted very much for Beijing to get the games because he fancies himself an architect of world peace to a certain extent. He takes great pride in the fact that North and South Korea marched together in Sydney.

    And I think that he wanted very much to bring the games to Beijing. And so I think that he certainly helped engineer some of the 56 votes behind the scenes.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    And, John Hoberman, for all the complaints about China around the world, they were also getting a lot of outside support and help, weren't they?

  • JOHN HOBERMAN:

    Well, apparently a number of multinationals helped pay for the Beijing bid. There are companies waiting on the sidelines for years now, waiting for this sort of development. And even the German foreign minister weighed in on the side of the Chinese, the State Department took a so-called neutral position.

    But could you read in the paper that State Department diplomats are hoping for a payoff in the form of restraint on the part of the Chinese government toward Taiwan, for example.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    A few moments ago we saw those scenes of jubilation in Beijing. Why was it so important to the Chinese government to win the games for 2008?

  • JOHN HOBERMAN:

    It was important in part because China of course feels itself to be a major player on the world scene. Mr. Samaranch, as Sally Jenkins pointed out, agrees with that and absorbed a China strategy into the overall vision of his leadership of the Olympic movement. So he has that as a personal victory as well as one on behalf of the Chinese. The watchword: the Olympic movement is universalism and this is a step in that direction.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Who was the constituency, Sally Jenkins? Who were the people who were voting in these 106 ballots that were being cast?

  • SALLY JENKINS:

    Well, they were the delegates from across the IOC. They came from all kinds of countries, European countries, Asian countries. You know, I think that one of the more interesting things to point out here though is the thinking that somehow the Olympics coming to Beijing will temper China's behavior on human rights.

    There's not actually a shred of evidence to support that — except it's a nice thought. But the fact of the matter is that historically the Olympics didn't do a whole lot for poverty in Mexico City or to cure hunger in North Korea. It didn't do a whole lot to promote peace in Sarajevo. So these are all lovely thoughts but the fact is that they're not necessarily real.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Was some of the support for Beijing almost geographic in nature, the feeling that Europe and North America have had the games quite often in the recent past and that it was time for Asia again?

  • SALLY JENKINS:

    Absolutely. They certainly wanted to take an Olympics to Asia again. They also want to take an Olympics back to Europe. Paris will be a contender, so will Toronto. There's… you know, it is a very complicated process. They want to make sure that diversity gets its turn, rightfully so.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    John Hoberman, there has been a lot of attention to just how the bid process is handled in the recent past — a lot of controversy surrounding the Salt Lake City Winter 2002 bid. Do we have any reason to expect that it is cleaner this time in the post-Salt Lake City era?

  • JOHN HOBERMAN:

    I would assume that after the super trauma of the bribery scandal, the IOC has cleaned up its act. One the reforms — after all — was actually forbidding the general membership from traveling to candidate cities to make sure that nobody takes a bribe. I'm sure that it was a much more regular procedure than in the days when votes were bought and sold. There's two aspects of this. On the one hand there is the technical requirements that any city must fulfill and there is a special committee that is appointed to evaluate cities on that basis.

    And then there's the bigger political picture. Of course, the State Department spokesman quoted earlier I think is being disingenuous when he says this is not a political event. Surely the IOC sees this as a way to make a certain sort of history. And, of course, that's going to figure in the choice of a city like Beijing.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Well, part of the Olympic creed, though, so we're told, is that it's supposed to be the antithesis of politics, the athletes of the world coming together in a place that is almost like extra territorial, Olympic land for those two weeks of the game. What is political about it?

  • JOHN HOBERMAN:

    This is a fantasy that has never been the place. Most Olympiads, including the very first in 1896, had some sort of political games swirling around it. And ever since the Berlin so-called Nazi Olympiad of 1936, virtually every Olympiad has been interpreted in political terms and rightly so.

    The games can serve as a political instrument in the hands of politicians and the IOC is going to use politicians to position the Olympic movement as it sees fit, if it has the power to do so.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Sally Jenkins, will China be able to be as closed to the world as it sometimes has been in the past about how it does things inside the country now that everybody is going to be paying so much attention to them for the next eight years?

  • SALLY JENKINS:

    Well, that's the interesting question. Certainly in 1995 when the International Women's Conference went to China, the media was herded in a very distinct direction. I'm not sure that they can do that with the Olympic contingent of media that shows up in Beijing. It's an enormously large contingent. It will be a relentless contingent, and you know, what will be interesting as well is to see how the press from around the world I think treats China in turn.

    There's going to be a lot of examination over the next eight years, and perhaps that is one good thing about the Olympics going to Beijing for those who are worried about its human rights record.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Along with those intangibles, inspection, open to the world, there's a lot of work that they have to do in the next years, isn't there?

  • SALLY JENKINS:

    Well, it is an enormously expensive undertaking among other things. And, you know, it's not at all certain that the Olympics are good for countries economically. They take along a huge bill with them and not all countries that have hosted the Olympics have come out on the plus side.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    John Hoberman, what does China and Beijing in particular have to do between now and the opening ceremony?

  • JOHN HOBERMAN:

    They have an enormous infrastructure to complete or to construct. There are going to be transportation issues. There's apparently a serious air pollution issue, I mean on top of the heat that is possible in Beijing during an Olympic season. There is stadium construction. There is recruiting enough high-tech expertise in order to run the computers that are going to feed millions of statistics to 15,000 or 20,000 reporters over a period of two weeks in 2008.

    There may well be airport issues. There could be a subway issue, which is often the case when games are suddenly placed in a metropolitan area. In this case, it's not so sudden because they've got seven years to deal with it. But, as Sally Jenkins pointed out, this is an enormously expensive enterprise. And from the Human Rights Watch standpoint that many of us share, for example, enormous scrutiny is going to come along with all this expense and process. And there is some potential for opening China in this way.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Well Sally Jenkins, to close, you're a reporter, do you see a good story line coming out of this, the Beijing games?

  • SALLY JENKINS:

    I do. I think it's going to be fascinating. You know, the Olympics that have been the most powerful and most significant historically are those like the 1936 Olympics in Berlin that carry with them some sort of political tension. Jesse Owens against Adolf Hitler was a heck of a story. And perhaps we'll have something of that same loaded, charged nature in Beijing.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Sally Jenkins, John Hoberman, thanks to you both.

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