SPORTS

NOTES FROM BEIJING

«It’s not a tank!» said my friend Helena. Working for a major news agency she is always very careful with words. «It’s an APC, an Armored Personnel Carrier.» She should know. Helena is a veteran of the Kosovo war, and she knows tanks. No matter. I still think «tank» makes it an even more absurd story. Plus, I was told it was how the question was asked at today’s daily press conference. As the journalists were coming to the Main Press Center there was the tank (or rather, the APC), right in front of it. «What is a tank doing in front of the Press Center?» asked a clearly flustered journalist. «It’s for your security,» the response came. «If I am at risk from something, I need to know what it is,» the journalist followed up. To no avail. No response came. And as the situation with the APC was becoming a little surreal, something was changing inside the Main Press Center. As journalists continue to receive no answers, the tension builds daily. «Was the girl in the opening ceremony miming?» «Were the fireworks we saw over Beijing ‘digitally’ produced for TV, never actually exploding all over town?» Some issues are far more serious: «How many requests for protests inside the designated areas were filed with the authorities?» «How many protest permits were granted?» «What happened with the lead dancer who broke her neck during the rehearsals for the Opening Ceremony?» No answers are coming any time soon. The angrier the journalists get, the more pointed the questions they ask. Expecting no response, they use the occasion to vent their frustration. As this is being played out, their Chinese counterparts put their pens down. They write nothing. Before the Games, 21 guidelines were reportedly distributed by the authorities to all local media. A rough translation of that document is making the rounds. Part of it absurd, part of it scary: «With regard to possible subway accidents in the capital, please follow the official line. All food safety issues, such as carcinogenic mineral water, should not be broached. In case of emergencies involving foreign tourists, please follow the official line. If there’s no official line, stay away from it.» Is there really such a document? The organizers deny it. Which brings us back to the original question: «What is a tank doing in front of the Press Center?» Stratos Safioleas was the International Media Manager at the Athens 2004 Olympics.