IOC lauds Beijing

LAUSANNE (AFP) – An International Olympic Committee (IOC) mission has given a positive assessment of preparations for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, officials said yesterday. The three-day visit by members of the IOC’s coordination commission was the first since the organizers decided last month to switch horse jumping events from their planned venue in the Chinese capital to Hong Kong because of veterinary problems. «We were very impressed by the proposed venues for the equestrian competitions in Hong Kong and the preparatory work there,» IOC Coordination Commission Chairman Hein Verbruggen said in a statement after the visit ended. The existing facilities belonging to the Hong Kong Jockey Club and the Hong Kong Sports Institute will be upgraded, the IOC said. Liu Jingmin, executive vice-president of the Beijing Organizing Committee, said: «We have been particularly happy to finalize the location plan, which has been created to ensure effective venue use following the Olympic Games… The IOC has helped us to learn from past Olympic Games host cities.» Officials said the assessment of overall work on Beijing was positive as the preparations entered a new phase. «With less than three years to go, we are already looking beyond physical infrastructure and operational aspects to the ways people here and around the world will be touched by the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games,» Verbruggen said. «The work we are doing now should ensure these will be remembered as great Games, leaving a positive sporting, economic and social legacy.» On top of examining progress with venues, the commission’s working group dealt with educational and ceremonial issues and the organization of the Olympic torch relay, the IOC said. It is understood that Olympic officials have also had behind-the-scenes discussions with their Chinese counterparts about social and human rights issues that have been criticized in the West, while remaining within the scope of the Games. They included working conditions for the press in Beijing or the social impact of the building work on some new venues. In some instances those issues were raised by Chinese officials, according to one source, who described the talks as «fruitful.» A leading human rights group has called on the IOC to put China under pressure over its lack of media freedoms and suppression of dissent in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics. The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders delivered a 4,000-name petition to IOC President Jacques Rogge in Lausanne last week demanding that he stop ignoring the lack of free expression in the communist country. Chinese media are strictly controlled by the ruling Communist Party. Foreign media are also regularly detained for reporting on stories authorities do not want aired. The full IOC Coordination Commission is due to visit Beijing and the Olympic sailing venue at Qingdao in November.