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Vienna | 14.8.2008 | 17:25 
Letters from a shrinking globe: around the day in 80 worlds

Zita, Rotifer, Steve

"Just Don't Be Journalists"
  On a day that was deemed to wet for kayaking (!), China's tot-sacking scandal continues to provoke an unprecedented global frown of disapproval that, I very much fear, no amount of organized Mexican waves from the yellow-shirted Beijing Workers teams will be able to dispel.

Rarely have we been so collectively affronted. We all remember those difficult days when the tooth fairy had visited us once too often, and it has apparently become a cause célèbre to have gappy-toothed 7-year old Yang Peiyi sing live at the Closing Ceremony (whether the little girl herself actually wants to or not).

After all, as FM4 Reality Check's waggish friend Jonathon Watts put it, if Olympic success is to be judged on the perfect alignment of the host nation's teeth, we may as well cancel London 2012 right now. Or at least Madonna's rendition of "Chariots of Fire".

I promise to keep you informed about any developments on tooth-gate as the news breaks.
A Bizarre Press Conference
  Sometimes though, these Games are no laughing matter.

Journalists, me included, should really be less worried about the plight of Miss Yang and more interested in this quote from Wei Wang, the secretary general of the Beijing organising committee. At a press conference this morning he revealed that he was very unhappy with Western journalists, some of whom had come "to peak, to be critical, to dig into the small details and find fault" And do all those other things that journalists are purposely trained to do.

I am sorry to repeat myself, but the issues that have been criticised in the West include:

1) The ill of treatment of prisoners. Austrian UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Novak, has documented beatings, electrocution and the removal of fingernails in Chinese detention centres.

2) The violent suppression of Tibetan rights and cultural identity.

3) The execution of Chinese citizens for crimes including tax fraud.

BOCOG Vice President Wang Wei

Bild: EPA
"I Love China More Than Ever"
  To call these "small issues" is the height of cynicism. But Wei Wang wasn't finished. After berating the reporters for nit-picking, he concluded with this appraisal of the psychological well-being of the 1.3 billion population of China: "Everyone is happy. That's a fact." Erm, if someone claimed that 'everyone' was happy in Liechtenstein, I would be in danger of forgetting my traditional English reserve and of laughing in their face.

Mr Wang will be pleased, however, when he is driven around the capital of Happyland these days. Off-duty Chinese athletes have reportedly been walking the streets around their venues wearing T-shirts that declare: "I Love China More Than Ever". Now that's more like the spirit Mr. Wang would like to see.
The Olympic Spirit
  Cometh the hour, cometh the man. But sometimes, sadly, he cometh not. The berated journalists can't expect much support from the IOC president Jacques Rogge.

Seven years ago, Mr Rogge said he hoped that the decision to award the Olympics to Beijing would improve China's human rights record. Since that manifestly hasn't happen, the big official from Belgium has been markedly kleinlaut on the issue.

This summer he also grandly stated internet access would be uncensored for journalists in Beijing. When this too turned out to be a hope and not a reality, he papered over the issue.

His spokeswoman Giselle Davies has apparently resorted to fencing off the questions stoically by parrying every query about human rights with praise of Beijing's beautiful facilities.

This is, of course, shameful and since it is a day of quotes, let's cast our minds back to what Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the Modern Olympics, said about the Games. According to Coubertin the sporting festival is about seeking "to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of a good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles."

If they were actually about building clever stadia that mimic the sleeping quarters of our winged cousins and filling them with orthodontically perfect mimers, Monsieur Coubertin somehow ommited to mention it.
Spokeswoman Gisele Davis
  That said I am still very glad that these Games weren't boycotted; and not just because that would have been a tragedy for the athletes.

Stories about Chinese human rights abuses have been carried regularly in the middle-sections of quality newspapers for years. But this summer they have been carried everywhere, and towards the front pages. I wouldn't have believed a year ago that the issue of China's negative role in the Darfur conflict would be being so widely discussed.

If Chinese officials really thought that the World's media was going to come, politely praise the buildings, gushingly praise China's rise up the medal table, and then go quietly home, then they have been proved wrong.

So if Wei Wang is exasperated it is a good thing.
A Stunning Finish
  On a lighter note, it's been another fascinating day in the pool.

Austrians Mirna Jukic and Markus Rogan for reaching the finals of their respective swimming events, and, in a frantic men's 100metres freestyle race, French swimmer Alain Bernard's beat Australia's Eamon Sullivan by the length of an overgrown finger-nail.

And don't worry if, like me, you celebrated Bernard's victory with one pain aux raisins too many. Michael Phelps claims to consume 12,000-calories every day, involving a breakfast of three fried-egg sandwiches and a pile of chocolate pancakes, and he still has an impressive six-pack. So go ahead: have another guilt-free croissant (and then train in the pool for 5 hours).

Personally, I remain sceptical of Phelps' claims. I tried that very diet on a recent holiday to the lovely island of Rhodes. Far from breaking any records in the hotel pool, I sank like a brick and contracted the terminal hiccups. I think the American swim-star is trying to fox any rivals trying to spy on his training regime.
The Alternative Medals Table
  Without Phelps winning all their medals, by the way, the Team USA might have to give up the ghost and admit the inevitable - they are second to China in the medals table.

Their unique tactics of counting each medal as if it is worth the same is coming to the end of its practical use - it now looks like China will be ahead on total medals too soon.

I did hear a rumour that US media outlets were considering giving their consent to new alternative system where you divided the medals by head of population, but then they canned it when found out that war-torn Georgia would be in the lead on that table, followed by Australia. India would be at the bottom, because they only love cricket.

fm4 links
  Channel 4 reporter challenges Olympics official
Press Conference Video on
The latest
  16.26 Sybille Bammer is out. So is Roger Federer. I thought I'd mention this in view of the fiery Swiss/Austria rivalry that I'm trying to provoke.
fm4 links
  Chris Cummins on Beijing 2008:

Forgotten Guilt, Beautiful Innocence
[Aug. 8] The most politicised Games in recent history are underway

Violence and Reconciliation
[Aug. 10] A vicious murder and a gesture of peace

Wind, Jodhpurs and the Laws of Physics
[Aug. 11] A television festival for insomniacs

Dancing Bee-keepers and Tugged Speedos
[Aug. 12] What's the best event to watch on the goggle-box?

An Ode to Crooked Teeth
[Aug. 13] And a war of words on the beach.

"Just Don't Be Journalists!"
[Aug. 14] A very bizarre press conference in Beijing.

Are Medal Tables Rubbish?
[Aug. 18] Journalists and politicians slaver of them, but the Olympic charter says they don't matter. Do they?
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