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Beijing 2008: The most expensive Games ever?

By CNN's Nic Hopkins

BEIJING, China (CNN) -- An Olympics hosted by Beijing in 2008 would likely take the title of the most expensive games ever seen, thanks to the $20 billion worth of city improvements slated for completion over the next seven years.

New roads, stadiums, parks and an extended subway system all contribute to the gloss Beijing city officials are putting on their bid for the 2008 Games.

Much of the money will be spent on infrastructure and environmental projects regardless, but hosting the Olympics is seen as a natural extension of efforts to improve Beijing.

Liu Jingmin, the city's vice mayor and a vice-president of the bid committee, says winning the 2008 Olympics reflects Beijing's efforts to join the ranks of the world's great cities.

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"China, including Beijing, has gone through drastic changes in terms of its economy, culture and society in the past 20 years," he told CNN.

"Overall I think it's moving towards prosperity, democracy and harmony. We can't say there are no problems here, but we are changing and moving forward."

Beijing's regional administrators contributed $8 million to the 2008 bid, while the private sector has committed a further $16.65 million.

Small profit

With forecast revenues of $1.625 billion and a cost of $1.606 billion, Beijing predicts it would make a modest $19 million profit from hosting the Games.

"To host the Olympics we need to build more stadiums in Beijing," says Liu. That would cost about RMB16 billion, or close to $170 million, which would be entirely funded by the government.

"The advantage of government-funded stadiums is that the citizens would be able to use them at a lower cost," Liu says.

Among the new stadiums is the near-complete 80,000-seat National Stadium, the centerpiece of the Olympic Green venue site, which would host the opening and closing ceremonies as well as athletics events.

Still more venues are planned, including indoor stadiums, a shooting range, a baseball field, a water sports center, a swimming center and a velodrome.

Pressing the flesh

Outgoing IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, had hoped to make giving the Games to China one of the legacies of his 21-year tenure, cites South Korea's hosting of the games as an example of how they might help Beijing.

Samaranch has been reported as saying that holding the Olympics in Seoul in 1988 helped transform South Korea from a military dictatorship to a modern democracy.

Others, however, argue that the Games will make little perceivable difference to the political climate in Beijing. They point to the Berlin Olympics in 1936 as an example.

Beijing will "take it as a license for more repression," the Associated Press quotes Ngavan Gelek, chairman of the Tibetan Culture and Information Center in Moscow, as saying.

Indeed, Beijing-based academic and political scientist Jia Qingguo says Beijing's government will take tough measures to ensure political stability is maintained in the lead-up to and during the Games.

"Everyone is aware that if we cannot maintain political stability we cannot successfully run the Olympics," he told CNN. "That is the most important pre-condition for change, for progress."

But Beijing's bid organizers say by hosting the 2008 Olympic Games, the world will have a better understanding of China and its people.

"Having the 2008 Olympics in China is the chance to create a cultural understanding. Both China and the world will have the chance to meet on a common ground," says David Chu, a member of the Beijing bid committee.

Hired help

To help sell Beijing, the bid committee enlisted a British public relations firm and perhaps the people who should know best how to secure an Olympic Games -- former members of the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG).

The Australians helped add the finishing touches to Beijing's bid documents and used their lobbying prowess in Moscow.

China also held a juicy carrot in front of the IOC and the big corporations that now bankroll the Olympics movement -- arguing that winning the right to host the 2008 Games would be a catalyst for more openness and further reform in China.

Pragmatic

Beijing also gained from the scars of its failed bid for the 2000 Games.

"China lost by two votes in the 2000 bid. Although I was not involved in the bid, I was very disappointed," says Jingmin.

"China has been actively involved in every Olympics after that bid. In the meantime, China and Beijing have opened up more to the outside world and have been trying to enhance the exchange with Western countries."

"The reform and the opening up of China are inevitable. The people have benefited so much from the process and they think it's the right path to take. Also, much of the improvement of Beijing's environment and infrastructure is already funded and locked in."






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