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Would you pay to be an 'Olympic Champion'?
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"It is many people's dream to pay a visit to the Bird's Nest, the main stadium of the Beijing Olympics. We were so lucky to be there and saw the outstanding architecture. We were surprised to find that anyone can pay to be an 'Olympic medalist' and we had our photo taken on the medal podium," read a post at a sports BBS on April 17. The post was viewed more than 170,000 times overnight. Over 70 percent of the comments criticized such behavior and pointed out "A visit without the appropriate cultural spirit is an affront to the dignity of Olympic resources."

Visitors to Bird's Nest can pay to take part in a simulation of a Beijing Olympics award ceremony.

Visitors to Bird's Nest can pay to take part in a simulation of a Beijing Olympics award ceremony.

According to the Netizen, tourists, led by hostesses and wearing a Chinese delegation uniform and receiving medals and flowers, can take part in a simulated award ceremony. It cost 120 yuan for four pictures. 2008 tourists can attend the ceremony every day.

In the face of criticism, Zhang Hengli, a chief official of the stadium, said they would continue the tourist event, maintaining that the Bird's Nest needs to market itself and to operate commercially.

"The stadium is synonymous with the Olympics and that's an important part of our tourist marketing," explained Zhang. "We authorized companies to undertake this 'award' event, because it meets tourist demand."

Visitors to Bird's Nest can pay to take part in a simulation of a Beijing Olympics award ceremony.

Visitors to Bird's Nest can pay to take part in a simulation of a Beijing Olympics award ceremony.

Zhang rejected criticism that the activity impairs the Olympics brand and the dignity of Bird's Nest. "It doesn't infringe upon the Intellectual Property Right of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) or the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG). In contrast, it serves to promote the Olympic spirit," said Zhang. "Tourists can enjoy the Olympics and understand the Olympic concept better."

Don't deify the Bird's Nest

"The Bird's Nest is just a stadium and not a historical icon like Tian'anmen," said Zhang, who asked the public to be more tolerant of the stadium's commercial activities.

The stadium has been criticized for auctioning its title rights. Many people cannot accept the name of the stadium being preceded by a company's name. "We planned to raise funds ourselves ever since the beginning of construction," said Zhang. "If we lived off government subsidies there would be less trouble, but I think we should shoulder the responsibility. We completely understand the symbolic importance of the stadium and we think carefully before we launch new events."

Zhang maintained that the authorities take public advice and suggestions seriously. "As the stadium's constructor and manager, we share the feelings of the public. But we have to move forward," said Zhang.

According to Zhang, the main income of the stadium comes from tourism, including ticket sales, tourist events, and souvenirs as well as rentals. "There are nearly 20,000 tourists daily," said Zhang. Some big performances and sports events have also signed agreements with the stadium, such as Kungfu star Jackie Chan's concert, Chinese soprano Song Zuying's concert featuring Pop singer Jay Chou and Spanish tenor Placido Domingo, and a racing competition attended by former World Champion Michael Schumacher.

"We sincerely hope the public can get to know the stadium before they criticize us," said Zhang.

The stadium was criticized for poor quality recently when one of the characters on the signage fell off. "The signage was supposed to be inscribed into the steel structure of the stadium," explained Zhang. "We only had one month left before the opening ceremony (of the Beijing Olympics), so we decided to glue the characters onto the structure, which would also protect the structure from rust. People who didn't know the story questioned the quality of the complex. That's nonsense."

Zhang also called for mutual understanding from the public. "We respect freedom of speech. But please think twice before you make a comment."

(China.org.cn by Huang Shan, April 27, 2009)

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