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Tuesday, 29 August, 2000, 13:26 GMT 14:26 UK
Beijing battles for 2008 Olympics
Beijing construction site
Beijing city officials are working hard to reinvent the city
By Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Beijing

The authorities in the Chinese capital, Beijing, are promising what they say will be a tough but fair fight following the announcement that the city has been chosen as one the five finalists in the contest to host the 2008 Olympics.

Don't fear the hardship, don't fear the challenge...keep the dream in mind

Beijing Olympic bid theme song
Seven years ago Beijing lost out to Sydney by just two votes in the contest to hold this year's Olympics.

Many in China blamed that loss on the United States, which opposed Beijing's bid because of China's poor human rights record.

The organisers of the 2008 Beijing bid say this time things will be very different.

'The dream'

"Don't fear the hardship, don't fear the challenge... keep the dream in mind" so go the opening words of Beijing's Olympic bid theme song.

Demolished homes
Large areas of old housing have been demolished
In the Chinese capital the battle to host the 2008 games is already well under way.

Housed in their plush new offices in downtown Beijing the city's Deputy Mayor, Liu Jingmin, and his 70 staff are working full time promoting Beijing's bid.

The office foyer is filled with a series of huge scale models of the proposed Olympic village, at its centre a giant artificial lake and a state-of-the-art 80,000 seater stadium.

Deputy Mayor Liu says the time has come for China to host the games.

We have a population of one-point-two-billion people... We think the world should listen to their voice

Beijing Deputy Mayor, Liu Jingmin
"We have a population of one-point-two-billion people," he says. "Most of them are hoping China can hold the Olympics.

"We think the world should listen to their voice. If the Olympics is held in the country with a fifth of the world's population, this will be good not only for China but for the whole Olympic movement."

Out on the streets ordinary Beijingers agree.

Need for improvement

"We have a very good chance," says one man.

Tiananmen protest
Memories of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown scuppered Beijing's earlier bid
"Last time we lost by only two votes. But there are many areas where Beijing needs to be improved - like the environment, transportation and the education level of the population."

This is the crux of the matter - for all their national pride, the ever practical citizens of Beijing see the Olympics bringing real tangible benefits to their city.

Last time Beijing bid for the games in 1993 it lost to Sydney.

An important reason was undoubtedly China's poor human rights record. The violent suppression of the Tiananmen democracy movement four years earlier was still fresh in people's memories.

Polluted skies

The city government is working hard to improve the environment of the whole city. We will do this whether we get the Olympic bid or not

Beijing Deputy Mayor, Liu Jingmin
But equally important was Beijing's dreadful pollution. By the Chinese government's own admission, the city is now the most polluted capital in the world.

On the western edge of the city stands one of the worst culprits, the massive Capital Iron and Steel complex, whose smelters belch vast quantities of pollution into the air every day.

Directly down wind is the centre of Beijing city, which as a consequence is almost always enveloped in a dirty grey blanket of smog.

As industry rapidly expands, the city faces a growing problem with pollution
For years the city's bureaucrats have wrangled over what to do with the huge steel plant.

Now they have decided it is to be sacrificed for the Olympic bid. Large parts will be shut down, while what is left will be packed up and moved elsewhere.

Pollution is not Beijing's only problem. The city's streets are clogged with an ever-growing numbers of cars.

Changing times

Its buses are old and dirty, its subway system is inadequate. But according to the deputy mayor all that is about to change.

Work has already begun on one of two huge six-lane highways that will circle the city.

Chinese diver
China's athletes will be hoping they can bring the Olympics home with them
Next year construction begins on a new subway line, and a light railway.

Millions of trees are being planted and new parks are planned.

By the time of the games in 2008 Deputy Mayor Liu says Beijing will be a new city.

"The city government is working hard to improve the environment of the whole city," he says.

Grand plans

"We will do this whether we get the Olympic bid or not. I think in the next few years you will see great improvements in all areas. That is why we are using the slogan: New Beijing - Great Olympics."

Beijing traffic
Beijing's streets are becoming increasingly clogged with traffic
There is still a long way to go - new roads and parks will do little to change the behaviour of the city's often surly and unscrupulous taxi drivers.

Memories of Tiananmen Square may be fading but China's human rights record is still considered among the worst in the world and opposition to China hosting the games is sure to be strong.

Most of all Beijing faces tough competition from other cities in the race, among them Osaka, Toronto and Paris.

But the hope of ordinary Beijingers is that when the bidding is over, win or lose, the city they live in will at the very least end up a little less grey and a little more agreeable than it is today.

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See also:

28 Aug 00 | SOL
Five cities bid for 2008 Olympics BBC Sport >>
14 Dec 98 | Asia-Pacific
China alleges unfair Olympics bid
10 Aug 00 | History
The history of the Olympics BBC Sport >>
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