Beijing officials wow IOC

MOSCOW, Reuters

Beijing combined evocative images of ancient and modern mainland China in its final bid for the 2008 Olympics on Friday just hours before the International Olympics Committee (IOC) votes on the host.

In a polished performance, bid officials stressed the enormous public support for the Beijing bid and said hosting the Games would improve human rights in the world’s most populous nation.

Beijing, which narrowly lost the 2000 Games to Sydney, is favourite ahead of Paris and Toronto despite worldwide concern about its record on human rights. Osaka and Istanbul are the outside candidates.

“Over 95 percent of our population support the bid because they believe that hosting the 2008 Olympic Games will help raise their quality of life,” Beijing Mayor Liu Qi told the IOC.

“It will help promote all economic and social projects and will also benefit the further development of our human rights cause,” he said.

The bid committee showed a film co-directed by Chinese director Zhang Yimou mingling images of Beijing’s modern skyscrapers and fashionable shoppers with elderly Chinese performing tai’chi in historical buildings.

In the morning session, Paris and Toronto strove to overtake Beijing in their final chance to sway the IOC.

Paris, hosts of the 1924 Games, struck an emotional chord by presenting their World Cup hero Zinedine Zidane to the IOC.

Zidane, son of impoverished Algerian immigrants, recalled the emotions of the 1998 World Cup triumph over Brazil in the French capital when the nation partied throughout the night.

“On that day, we sent a message of love and peace,” Zidane said. “France needs to recapture that feeling and make it an eternal feeling.”

Toronto presented a more vibrant show with native Canadians dancing through the auditorium to the stage, startling some of the more elderly IOC members.

Both cities gave detailed technical presentations, with Paris presenting the more stylish videos, complete with shots of the French capital’s best known landmarks accompanied by a snatch of song from chanteuse Edith Piaf.

The Toronto video contained one of the more shocking images ever captured on film, the 1972 photograph of a naked Vietmanese girl fleeing in terror after being sprayed by napalm. Kim Phuc, who now lives in Toronto, made a brief speech in favour of the bid.

An otherwise smooth presentation faltered slightly with an unintelligible piece of film featuring mayor Mel Lastman, who has apologised for some unfortunate remarks before a recent promotional trip to Africa.

Earlier Russian police arrested at least 14 people including a Tibetan monk who were protesting against the Beijing bid.

About 20 demonstrators tried to raise a banner reading “No Olympics in Beijing until Tibet is free!” but were dispersed by police.

Tibetan activists, who have accused the Russian government of bowing to pressure from Beijing to block their protests, have staged a series of protests this week.