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SEPTEMBER 8 , 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 35 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK


Grant Turner - AP.
About 10,000 athletes are due to converge on Sydney for the Games of the XXVII Olympiad.

"Citius, Altius, Fortius,"
(faster, higher, stronger)
-- motto from the first modern Olympic flag, unfurled in 1920

In the Race for Gold
With business and sport now irretrievably entwined, there's big money in medals. On your marks, please
By PENNY CRISP

And richer. That's what it mostly boils down to these days. When the Games of the XXVII Olympiad begin in Sydney on September 15, the prevailing creed will be greed. Forget sportsmanship and fair play. Forget the sporting brotherhood of man and noble sentiments of competing only to do your best. Even national pride comes a long way down the list in terms of motivation for today's elite athletes. Going for gold is the mantra. Winning gold means more gold — in the form of official rewards, improved facilities, product endorsements and meaty bonuses. Multiple gold and you are largely set for life. You never have to chase gold again.

MEDAL HOPES
Taiwan
South Korea
Japan
Singapore
Hong Kong
Indonesia
Malaysia
China
• Thailand
• Philippines
And how will Asia fare in this rich business? Poorly, some would say, considering it is home to three-fifths of the world's population. Badly, some might snicker, because widespread poverty does not a sporting giant make. Yet dismissive predictions may well be wrong. Led by China and ably assisted by South Korea, much of Asia wised up quite a while ago. To create gold, you have to invest some gold — which, increasingly, Asian governments are doing in their sporting programs. In investing gold, you attract gold — as big business lines up to contribute.

In South Korea, where corporations and government are closely linked, leading chaebol have for years abetted and endorsed government sporting programs. The result? Seven gold medals in the 1996 Atlanta Games, 20 minor medals and 10th place overall in the world standings. Not bad for a country of 47 million. And while many Koreans still measure success in terms of academic achievement, they are not so reluctant these days to consider sporting alternatives. In other words, they have seen their Olympic heroes get rich. With Korea's national sport of taekwondo making its official Olympic debut this year, more medals (and riches) beckon. The snowball effect should apply.

To be sure, some Asian states lag distantly in the Olympic race. India, for example, managed one bronze in Atlanta, putting it on a par with Mongolia and Israel. Singapore managed nothing. Distance from the centers of international competition is one telling factor, as is an awkward climate for the propagation of sporting greatness. Yet if Japan's three Atlanta gold medals seem a bit puny, Canada, Brazil and South Africa fared no better. North Korea's two golds put it on the same line as Sweden and Nigeria. The lone golds claimed by Indonesia, Thailand and Hong Kong matched the efforts of Great Britain, Kenya and Iran. Taken individually, Asia's results can look miserable. Put into context, they might not register on the over-achieving scale, but they certainly don't deserve opprobrium.

China, of course, is a different kettle of fish in the Asian Olympic equation. Like all superpowers, or aspirant ones, in China sport means politics as well as business. Along with Americans and Russians, Chinese athletes carry a lot more than just the pressure of performing at their best against the best at a given time on a given day (more than enough for most competitors). They carry the whole propaganda machine as well. But given that China sent just one swimmer to the Helsinki Games in 1952, then did not reappear in competition until Los Angeles in 1984, its effort in the past two Olympics to seal fourth spot on the medals table (16 gold from each Olympics) is little short of remarkable.

In the past, this success came largely through the assiduity of the state machine in identifying and nurturing talent. These days China's Sports Ministry still has a huge say, but foreign and domestic companies have flocked to reap a golden harvest. China's diving team, for instance, due to haul away at least two gold medals from Sydney (see page 54), is sponsored by a television manufacturer and a wine maker. Indeed, corporate influence is growing so fast that analysts expect business to soon replace the state as the leading sports bankroller.

Moreover, for China the Games game is far more intense this year. Beijing, which lost the 2000 Olympics to Sydney by just two International Olympic Committee (IOC) votes, was last week promoted to the five-city shortlist for the 2008 Games. The country's sporting chiefs believe that a brilliant showing in Sydney will help it to relegate Istanbul, Osaka, Paris and Toronto to the losers' podium when the vote is taken in Moscow next July. Preparations in Beijing itself are just as purposeful. The huge Capital Iron and Steel smelter, long blamed for enveloping central Beijing in a blanket of gray smog, is finally being relocated.

Yet the "pollution" that grows more virulent as sport and money become inseparable soulmates may well scupper China's hopes of a 20-plus gold medal result in Sydney. Last year its doping authorities announced 16 positive tests, including seven in track and field and five in weightlifting. Less than two months ago, world-record-holding swimmer Wu Yanyan was fined and given a four-year ban for testing positive at the Olympic trials in Shandong. Depending on your point of view (Beijing wants the 2008 Games, so it is making a show of cracking down on doping; or, the country is making a genuine effort to overcome a lack of testing facilities and some entrenched corruption among its coaches), China undoubtedly has pruned its medal-winning chances by cleaning up its athletes.

By the Numbers
But how much are the spring rolls? Well, we can't tell you that as yet. But we do have a few other fancy figures to whet your appetite for the September 15-October 1 sports fest.
Countries:
200
Athletes:
10,200
Sports:
30
Events:
297
Venues:
36
Meals daily in the Olympic village:
60,000
Television audience:
3.5 billion
Televised hours:
3,200
Cameras:
700-plus
Tickets available:
5 million
Media representatives:
15,000
Daytime temperatures:
16C-20C
Budget:
$1.56 billion
Australia's TV revenue:
$572 m
Revenue from sponsorships, licensing and royalties:
$480 m
In today's sporting machine, however, the drugs debate is almost as hypocritical as the insistence on the amateur ideals from which the modern Olympic movement sprang. The IOC consistently paid mere lip service to the doping problem — which, incidentally, is breathtakingly sophisticated — until last year when it set up a World Anti-Doping Agency in Lausanne. The agency had its first meeting last January — about 12 years after Canadian Ben Johnson tested positive for steroids in Seoul. Last month the IOC agreed to introduce a still-experimental combined test for the endurance-boosting synthetic hormone erythropoietin (EPO) in Sydney. EPO was first detected in the 1980s.

Since athletes are reckoned to be at least 10 years ahead of authorities in their drugs regimens, it can be supposed that only those from "unsophisticated" countries will be caught using EPO. If any are caught at all. Part of the EPO test adopted for Sydney was dumped before this year's Tour de France simply because it didn't work. For Atlanta, the IOC unveiled a so-called high-resolution mass spectrometer (HRMS) to nail drug cheats. The test, rushed into action, also didn't work. HRMS was later dismissed as a public relations gimmick; drug-testing at Atlanta was characterized by some experts as "a fiasco."

And while China has become everyone's favorite whipping boy on the drugs front, charges of state-sponsored doping along the lines of the formidable East Germans are incredible. As a developing country, China patently lacks the resources needed to accomplish such a feat. Far more credible are claims made in July by America's former anti-doping watchdog Wade Exum, who is taking the U.S. Olympic Committee to court, claiming his anti-drug efforts were sabotaged. Wade alleges that more than half of the U.S. athletes caught doping before Atlanta were not punished, and that some even won medals. He also claims that the U.S. committee "does not run a doping control program, they run a controlled doping program." The committee has denied the claims.

Oh, but we will all be swept up in the sheer spectacle of Sydney's Games. We may even forget the blatant bribery of IOC delegates that so distinguished Salt Lake City's successful bid for the 2002 Games. Faster (is tomorrow soon enough?), Higher (another $100,000?), Stronger (a safety deposit box?). Let the Games begin.

Write to Asiaweek at mail@web.asiaweek.com

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COVER: Faster, Higher, Stronger . . . Richer
Money interests are set to compete against pure amateurism at the Sydney Olympics

MEDAL PROSPECTS BY NATION: Taiwan | South Korea | Japan | Singapore | Hong Kong | Indonesia | Malaysia | China | Thailand | Philippines


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Books: Life and political upheaval along the mighty Mekong

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Investing: A window of opportunity for Asian bonds

Business Buzz: The value of planning ahead

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