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Why IOC Picks Beijing?

Front-runner didn't stumble this time. The International Olympic Committee has awarded the 2008 Olympic Games to Beijing, which won a majority 56 nods from the 105 voting IOC members on Friday, beating Toronto, Paris, Istanbul and Osaka.

The attraction and far-reaching significance of staging the Games in a country which has the world's largest population, as well as huge economic potential, won the day.

To most IOC members, Beijing's case for the Games is simple: China is home to a one-fifth of the world's population but never has hosted the Olympics.

It is a largely untapped market for the products of corporate sponsors. And it is also an international sports giant, finishing third in medals at last year's Sydney Games.

Beijing had gained an clear lead over its close rivals in the IOC's May 15 evaluation report, and it never relinquished it.

The report rated Beijing, Toronto and Paris offering "excellent bids" but pointed out a Beijing Games would "leave a unique legacy to China and to sport."

Canadian IOC member Dick Pound, an IOC presidency candidate who had kept himself from directly praising the Toronto bid, said after Friday's ballot that it was time for the Olympic movement to reach some of its own goals -- to "put sport at the service of mankind everywhere and maybe bring about some change."

IOC vice president Kevan Gosper said most members saw the Beijing Games as a historic event and a catalyst for faster reform in China.

The Chinese capital submitted a solid bid which had the full backing of the Chinese government and its people. And to the great disappointment of Toronto, Beijing didn't make a mistake.

"I think Beijing had to make a major mistake and they didn't," said Paul Henderson, head of Toronto's losing 1996 bid.

After losing the 2000 bid to Sydney and sitting out the contest for the 2004 Games, Beijing came back this time with a new and improved bid.

With the motto "New Beijing, Great Olympics", Beijing promises to host a "Green Olympics, a "Hi-tech Olympics" and the "People's Olympics".

Beijing enjoys the most popular support among the five bidding cities. A Gallup opinion poll commissioned by the government showed 94.9 percent of the public in favor of it. The IOC's own surveys found support even higher.

By comparison, only about two-thirds of the public in France backed the Paris bid; Canadians expressed about the same amount of support for Toronto's Olympic attempt.

The Chinese government has pledged to spend 20 billion U.S. dollars building sports complexes and refurbishing the Beijing infrastructure. There are plans for a new exhibition center with twin skyscrapers that could be taller than any in the world.

About 3.7 billion U.S. dollars will go to ease traffic, tripling the length of the city's highways and quadrupling the capacity of its subway system.

In addition, about 400 million U.S. dollars has been earmarked to upgrade the health care system, and city officials want to pour another 400 million U.S. dollars into communications and technology infrastructure.

In its final presentation on Friday, which impressed many IOC members including Swiss Olympic head Kagi Walter and world athletics chief Lamine Diack, Beijing assured the IOC that all facilities promised would be completed to Olympic standards by the time of the Games.

Walter said he was "impressed" with Beijing's presentation and Diack said in a prepared statement that he was convinced Beijing would hold a "magnificent" Games.

John Bitove, chief of Toronto's bid, virtually lost his usual confidence when he saw Beijing's presentation.

"I'm not completely surprised (with the result), when I saw their final presentation I got worried," he said.

"They had a compelling argument, the world's biggest country should have the Games.

"Beijing established why having the Games was so important to them, their presentation pushed all the right buttons. "

To some IOC members, it was time for Beijing to have the Games after its 2000 loss as a pre-race front-runner.

"They lost last bid by only two votes," said an IOC member who asked not to be named. "It's time for Beijing to have it back."

Beijing's low-key tactics before the final vote also paid off.

"Toronto put up an aggressive campaign before the final ballot while Beijing had said less and done more," said an Asian IOC member who also asked anonymity.

Friday's vote turned out that Toronto and Paris hadn't put up enough challenge to Beijing.

Toronto officials insisted their Mayor Mel Lastman was not to blame for the defeat after incorrect remarks about Africa. But Olympic observers said the damage had been done before the vote.

"I can just see myself in a pot of boiling water with natives dancing around me," he said before a promotional trip to Mombasa, Kenya.

While Pound, the most powerful Canadian in the IOC, had kept the Toronto bid at a distance, Chinese IOC executive board member He Zhenliang had been rallying support for the Beijing bid.

Olympic observers said Pound's presidency chance would been slimmer if the IOC had given the 2008 Olympics to Toronto.

Australian IOC vice president Gosper said the 71-year-old He Zhenliang played an important role in bringing the Olympics to Beijing.

IOC first vice president Anita Defrantz of the United States told reporters that she was moved by He's sincerity and professionalism.

Helen Lenskyj, a member of a coalition of anti-poverty groups opposed to Toronto's Olympic effort, said she was released that Toronto had lost the bid because the money could now go to helping the city's estimated 7,000 homeless people.

"Toronto has an extremely serious homelessness problem and it would have been made worse (had the city hosted the Olympics)," said Lenskyj.

Paris was unable to convince members to keep the Olympics in Europe for a third straight time after the 2004 Summer Games in Athens and 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy.

Germany, Britain, Italy, Russia and Spain are planning their bids for the 2012 Games.

(People’s Daily 07/14/2001)

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