Beijing’s eye on Athens ahead of 2008 Games

BEIJING – Beijing’s Olympic organizers are closely monitoring preparations for this year’s Summer Games in Athens and are confident the Chinese capital can steer clear of the troubles that have befallen the Greek city. Venues for the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing will be completed about a year in advance, says Liu Jingmin, executive vice-president of the Beijing Games organizing committee. «I think venue construction will really be done in about the middle of ’07,» Liu told Reuters yesterday. Much of Beijing’s construction may be done earlier, he added, but additional time would be needed for fine-tuning. «I estimate it will take more than a year to adjust and try everything,» Liu said. Completing stadium construction without delays would be in stark contrast with Greece, which lost more than two years of preparation time because of political infighting over major contracts after it was awarded the Summer Games in 1997. Organizers of the Athens Games have gone into overdrive in the last two years to complete venues in time. «I feel that Athens’ preparation work, on the whole, is going according to plan,» said Liu, who recently visited the Greek capital. «The time in which they have to build some venues is tight, but I do engineering and I think they have it under control,» he added. Beijing will send nearly 500 people to the Athens Games, one group to monitor technical aspects of the sporting events and another to observe how the Greek government handles issues like traffic and public security. «There is a saying: just because you may not eat pork doesn’t mean you’ve never seen a pig run,» Liu said. «This ‘pig’ is only running once before 2008, this is the only time. And we’re getting ready to open our eyes wide and see how it runs in every aspect.» Liu said there was no budget crisis in Beijing, although organizers of the 2008 Games were doing everything they could to scrimp and save. «We need to guarantee the successful holding of the Olympic Games and to spur Beijing’s urban construction and economic development, while also being thrifty,» he said. «We need to conserve every penny.» Beijing’s operational costs are expected to be $1.6 billion, a fraction of the $37 billion budgeted to build infrastructure and beautify the city. Although Beijing appears to be on schedule with venue construction and in tight control of its budget, other problems have emerged. Last month, China’s National Audit Office said it found that Beijing’s General Administration of Sports had misused much of 131 million yuan ($15.8 million) earmarked for the Olympics by spending it on apartments for staff and investments. The sports authority has, however, denied misusing the money.