- Title: CHINA: Beijing's Olympics leave mixed legacy, one year on
- Date: 10th August 2009
- Summary: BEIJING, CHINA (RECENT - JUNE 4, 2009) (REUTERS) POLICE VAN SITTING ON TIANANMEN SQUARE
- Embargoed: 25th August 2009 13:00
- Location: China
- Country: China
- Topics: Sports
- Reuters ID: LVA2F48B9K7LVMM7GL30VU3V42E8
- Story Text: One year after Beijing's widely successful Olympic Games, venues are being used, though not for much sport, while critics worry that China's pledges to improve its human rights record and clean-up its air may be fading with time.
Beijing's signature Olympic stadium, the Bird's Nest, is still a focal point for Chinese tourists visiting Beijing, and a symbol of China's hugely successful Olympics which kicked off one year ago on Saturday (August 8).
But once the athletes had departed, the empty and expensive-to-maintain sports venues posed a new problem.
In a bid to raise revenue, organisers at the iconic Bird's Nest and Water Cube have expanded their venues' repertoire to host concerts, fashion shows and other cultural activities, as well as some sports activities.
The Bird's Nest Stadium will see a return to sport on its Olympic anniversary as Italian soccer teams Inter Milan and Lazio take to the pitch on August 8 to play for the Italian Super Cup.
Alongside planned events, organisers say the Bird's Nest still draws up to 30,000 tourists every day.
They claim the revenue from the 50 Yuan (7 U.S. dollars) entrance fee covers the 70 million Yuan (10.25 million U.S. Dollars) maintenance cost and the up to 90 million Yuan (13.28 million U.S. Dollars) annual interest payments.
Many are drawn to Beijing to see get a close up view of the facilities that they have only seen on television.
"Everyone wants to come and see the Olympic venues properly to have a clearer image in their minds. When I saw the Games on TV, they made a great impression on me," said Xi Yong, a teacher from Jiangsu province.
While people can use the warm-up pools, the National Aquatics centre, or 'Water-cube', currently sees more visitors to an amphibious interpretation of the ballet Swan Lake, with dancers performing both in and out of the water.
Beijing's beach volleyball venue has also undergone a post-Olympic makeover, rebranding itself as the Sun Beach Theme Park.
Again for an entrance fee of 50 Yuan, visitors can laze on man-made sandy beaches, with sand specially imported from China's southern tropical island, Hainan.
Ms Hang, a Beijing resident buried up to her neck in Olympic sand, believed that expanding the uses of the Olympic stadiums would prevent them from becoming white elephants.
"At the moment, they aren't being wasted. You see there are so many people here, it's not as if there are no visitors," she said.
But like many Olympic host nations, China pledged that the benefits of its Olympics would be long term, stretching beyond the Paralympic closing ceremony.
However, some of China's Olympic promises, including a pledge to clean up its capital city's air and improve the country's human rights, are still coming under scrutiny by critics.
The city spent billions of dollars on infrastructure to accommodate the expected influx of Olympic tourists which, one year on, the officials insist was money well spent.
"The successful hosting of the Olympic Games positively pushes forward and improves a country's economy, society, culture and environmental protection. The successful hosting of the Beijing Olympics has hugely encouraged the modernisation of the city," said China's Deputy Sports Minister Cui Dalin.
Last year's rioting in Tibet and the international protests that followed, threatened to cast a shadow over Beijing's Olympic legacy during the run-up to the Olympics.
While foreign media freedom's were significantly expanded before, during and after the Games, foreign journalists have still been prevented from reporting in certain areas.
Having made a pledge to improve human rights, some rights groups have said the situation has deteriorated in 2009, a year of sensitive anniversaries.
"They broke their promises that they made to the IOC (International Olympics Committee) in order to get the Games, and they haven't delivered on the promises that they made that they said if they get the Games it will contribute to greater development and appreciation to human rights in China in the longer term. Well, in the year since we've actually seen an intensification of a lack of respect of human rights in China," he said.
Meantime, environmentalists warn that China's air pollution is still a problem.
In the run-up to the Games, Beijing improved its air quality by closing down or relocating nearby factories and restricting car use in the city.
One year on, air quality is still a hotly contested subject, despite state media's claims that the first six months of this year saw more blue sky days than the same period in any of the previous nine years.
Pollution levels appear to have dropped, but on some days Beijing's buildings are still shrouded in thick smog.
The government has taken steps to promote the use of natural gas rather than burning coal.
Altered car restrictions are still in place, and a drop in demand due to the economic slowdown has caused the closure of some factories.
Zhu Tong, Professor at Peking University's Environmental Sciences and Engineering College, supports the continued government restrictions but says there is still work to do.
"Under Beijing's current economic and social circumstances, it is fair to say that Beijing has tried its best. However, in terms of ensuring public health and maintaining sustainable social development there is still much to be done," he said.
Hundreds of Chinese spectators waving Chinese flags turned out to bask again in China's Olympic success at a concert in the Olympic Forest Park on Thursday (August 6).
A star cast, including film star Jackie Chan, led the crowds in celebrating China's chart-topping 51 gold medals.
"It feels as if it's still the Olympics, seeing all the workers wearing those clothes, I feel very moved. As I was singing the song "Just Like a Dream", it felt like it only happened yesterday. Seeing it makes my tears start falling. Honestly," an emotional Chan told a state television reporter after the concert.
However despite the concerns of some, many in China were delighted with last year's Olympics.
Along with the shiny stadiums and improved infrastructure, the greatest legacy for China's Olympics could be the boost of confidence it delivered to the nation of 1.3 billion.
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