Fri, August 07, 2009
Sports > Popular News > 1st anniversary of Beijing Olympics

Beijing Olympic venues host white elephant

2009-08-07 09:08:43 GMT2009-08-07 17:08:43 (Beijing Time)

A child at the Natonal Aquatic Center, also known as the Water Cube in Beijing. The Bird's Nest Olympic stadium in Beijing has hardly been used for sports events since the August Games, while just a corner of the Water Cubic aquatic centre has become a public swimming pool.(AFP)

BEIJING – The Bird's Nest Olympic stadium in Beijing has hardly been used for sports events since the August Games, while just a corner of the Water Cubic aquatic centre has become a public swimming pool.

One year on, white elephant syndrome lingers in China's capital as it ponders what to do with buildings that were intended overwhelmingly to make a dramatic impression during the short span of just two weeks in August last year.

"For China, the venues were about being the host of a key moment of global prestige that transcended economics," said Seth Grossman, managing director for Eastern China of Carat, a media communications agency.

"It was a desire to welcome the world to a first-class experience that befits the Olympics and, as such, the venues had to reflect the prestige of the state, not just the local municipality of Beijing."

Even if the venues were never designed with an eye to their long-term benefits, they are now taking up valuable Beijing real estate, triggering speculation about what to do with these monuments to the city's Olympic glory.

The 80,000-seat Bird's Nest is crowded with sightseers every day, but an Italian Super Cup match on Saturday will be the first big sports event there since the Olympic flame was put out on August 24 last year.

The reason that the Bird's Nest is not being used any more frequently is a wish among Beijing officials to reserve it for prestigious events. Local football is out of the question.

"The big issue is size. Anything less than 80,000 attendees will make the park seem empty," said Greg Paull, the head of R3, a Beijing-based media consultancy.

The Water Cube also sees a huge daily stream of visitors who walk down rows of hot dog stands and vendors of mineral water, and a training pool is open to visitors willing to pay a little extra, but big events are rare here, too.

China feels a need to be picky about future events, too, because they cannot be seen to debase the symbolic value the venues have, especially in the minds of the Chinese.

"The concern (of the Chinese authorities) is that the Olympic venues sustain the successful image of the Beijing Games," said Paul Renner, president of Helios Partners China, a sports marketing consulting firm.

"In other words, they want to ensure that the events staged there maintain a positive and successful image."

To be sure, some Olympic venues in Beijing are modest success stories. The Wukesong Baseball Stadium is at the centre of the US National Basketball Association's foray into the Chinese market.

In October, the NBA will launch a "China Games" basketball game between the Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets, and a series of international concerts over the year are also planned.

The Workers' Stadium, an older venue that received an Olympic upgrade, is also faring well, showing its strength as a venue in a series of Premier League matches late last month.

One day, the Bird's Nest will return to its former glories too, observers said.

"As the premier national stadium, the Bird's Nest will certainly be the home to the future Liu Xiangs of the world in the months and years to come," said Grossman, evoking China's iconic former Olympic champion sprint hurdler.

In struggling to find new uses for its Olympic venues, Beijing is hardly any different from other past host cities.

Venues falling into disrepair is a common phenomenon linked to the Olympics, with Athens probably the most notorious recent example.

Even Japan and South Korea, which hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2002, have found the venues to be a somewhat cumbersome legacy.

"Usually the cities where sport is already ingrained within popular culture have had it easier," said Paull.

"Sydney has leveraged its main stadium well for rugby, football and other events. Atlanta and LA have used facilities for major sport."

Renner, of Helios Partners, argued that this venue syndrome has grown so big the International Olympic Committee ought to pay more attention.

"This is something that needs to be addressed in the future by the IOC when they grant the Games to the host city, in particular given the growing concerns about sustainability," he said.


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