Yesterday I left for the Beijing Olympics along with my Shadow Sports Minister Hugh Robertson. It is a great privilege (and great fun) to be going, but we will be there with the much more hard headed objective of trying to learn any lessons for our own Olympics in 2012. So here are 10 questions I will be seeking to answer:
ONE: The Beijing Olympics are reputedly costing $40bn. That is more than double our budget, and China has the advantage of much lower labour rates. So where is the extra money going? Is it on Beijing’s infrastructure? Is it simply vanity in wanting to host the world’s best ever Olympics? I’d like to understand where the extra money is going.
TWO: What are the practical things that can go wrong? In Beijing’s case they have dealt with pollution by banning cars and forcing factories to shut, but this kind of totalitarian response is inconceivable in London. We need to be smarter in our planning for potential pitfalls. In particular how good are our transport estimates for a tube system that is already bursting at the seams and how well will our security plans cope with the threat of terrorism?
THREE: The International Olympic Committee reportedly said that we cannot have the shooting at Bisley and the equestrian events in Windsor Great Park as they are too far from the Olympic village. This means we will have to spend money on temporary facilities that will be pulled down rather than enhancing permanent facilities as part of an Olympic legacy. Why then Beijing has been allowed to spread events across seven cities, including hosting the equestrian events as far away as Hong Kong?
FOUR: People judge an Olympic Games differently in a developed to a developing country. For China 2008 is intended to be a "coming out" as Tokyo was for Japan in 1964 and Seoul for Korea in 1988. Developed countries are judged much more on issues such as whether the games turn a profit and whether the facilities are used afterwards or become white elephants. What will London need to achieve for 2012 to be a success?
FIVE: The Olympics were intended to be a PR triumph for China on the
world stage, but with demonstrations in Tibet and bombs in Xinjiang
they have actually reminded people just how unfree China is. How will
the UK fare when we are under the international spotlight, and how will
we stop people equating our legitimate involvement in Iraq and
Afghanistan with the totally unacceptable suppression of human rights
SIX: How is Britain doing in its medal hopes? So far we have had some
great successes in cycling and swimming. In terms of our ambition to
come fourth in 2012 though there are some serious clouds on the
horizon, namely Gordon Brown’s failure to raise the promised £100m of
private sponsorship for UK Sport.
SEVEN: Have the Chinese lived up to their promises on freedom? With the
arrest of the ITN correspondent John Ray it doesn’t currently look like
they have met their pledge to meet international standards of media
freedom. I’ll also be interested to see how much freedom there is for
people visiting the Olympics? I will google Falun Gong and Free Tibet
when I am in Beijing and see what comes up.
EIGHT: Is the UK doing enough to support the rights of democracy activists
in China? President Bush made a strong speech in favour of freedom of
conscience and freedom of worship. The FCO has tended to favour behind
the scenes pressure – and Gordon Brown shamefully said nothing in
public about human rights on his last visit to China. Are we really
exerting behind the scenes pressure (as Margaret Thatcher did with
Gorbachev) or are we just being pathetic?
NINE: With Russian aggression in Georgia at the top of everyone’s minds,
what does that mean about China’s role in the global balance of power?
China – whilst fiercely defending its rights within what it does
consider its borders (e.g. Taiwan and Tibet) – has never had
extra-territorial ambitions. Do we now need China to be our friend – as
it was in the Cold War?
TEN: What difference can the election of a Conservative government in
2009 or 2010 realistically make to the London Olympics in 2012? I would
like to think we would never have tried to hoodwink people over the
budget as Labour did. But taking over the reins so close to the event
itself severely constrains our options. Where can we have the most
impact in making London 2012 a success?