Asian Games

Bigger, better, brighter

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 January, 2010, 12:00am

Downsizing, slashing and curtailing have been the mantras during the global economic crisis, but there's little sign of cutbacks in Guangzhou, the host city of the 16th Asian Games.

On the contrary, the metropolis is preparing for a massive, no expense-spared global public relations exercise this year.

The southern trading hub is the final stop for the Olympic caravan before it departs China after a self-indulged decade of gold medal triumph, furry mascots, slogans, epic construction, unparalleled opening ceremonies and the odd international controversy.

Guangzhou's swansong event is also set to be another spectacle of power expressed in modern stadiums and on and off the field of play.

Of course, officials know there's little point trying to upstage the untouchable Beijing Olympics.

But the Guangzhou Asian Games Organising Committee is determined to deliver an event to surpass the last Asian Games in Doha four years ago, which were hailed as the 'best ever'.

Guangzhou is in the throes of a massive construction and revamp project. Government bosses are decorating the streets with talismans and slogans.

Lucky dancing goats and the Games' slogan, 'Thrilling Games, Harmonious Asia', are splashed on buses and billboards, and on flags and banners hung from buildings and in hotel foyers and shopping malls.

More than 220km of track for nine new metro lines is being laid. A new railway terminus, hotels, a water treatment system, roads and apartment blocks, parks, theatres, exhibitions centres, museums and - crucially - sporting arenas are under construction.

Undoubtedly, officials are using the event to boost the city's reputation and keep the juggernaut economy trucking along.

Every penny of the estimated budget of 200 billion yuan (HK$227 billion) appears to be have been spent on cement and labour. Yet organisers insist they are being frugal and financially responsible in these austere times.

Whether the mega project is completed over or under budget may never be known. But for the 12,000 athletes and officials expected in November, the Games will be a boon as they prepare for the 2012 London Olympics.

Twelve new stadiums are being built to complement the 41 existing competition venues, which are being overhauled, as are some 20 training grounds.

The atmospheric 80,000-seat Aoti Main Stadium will be the setting for record-breaking athletics performances.

And where better for the Hong Kong soccer team to build on their East Asian Games success than in the impressive Tainhe Stadium in the heart of the city? The new velodrome and gymnasium compete with Beijing's Bird's Nest and Water Cube for artistic merit.

Sub-tropical jungle and farmland 17km to the south has been cleared to make way for the Asian Games Town, which features a media centre and a cluster of modern high-rise apartment complexes for athletes, officials and 10,000 journalists.

At the three main sport hubs, migrant workers are toiling among the scaffolding and mud, building bridges and laying fresh tarmac, screwing down new spectator seats and painting.

But this frenetic scene of construction chaos is misleading, just as it was in Beijing.

Unlike 2010 Commonwealth Games host New Delhi, Guangzhou is way ahead of schedule, officials say.

'Hosting such a large-scale international event will help drive our economic and social development,' asserts Guangzhou Asian Games Organising Committee deputy secretary-general Gu Shiyang. 'It will quicken the improvement of the urban infrastructure and living environment. It will also improve the behaviour of our citizens.

'Because of the Games, we have sped up construction, especially of the metro subway system. The roads, streets and expressways will also be upgraded.

'More effort has been made to improve the air and water quality. We have moved a number of factories away from the city over the past few years and continue to introduce green projects.'

With 42 sports - three more than Doha - offering 473 events and 1,419 medals, the November 12-27 event will be the largest in its 59-year-old history.

China was the runaway winner in 2006 with 165 golds and there's no guessing who will be top dogs next autumn - especially with expected outings for the likes of track star Liu Xiang and diving diva Guo Jingjing.

The headlines will instead focus on the runners-up slots, with India vying to catch up with its economic rival, though it has to first overtake second-tier powerhouses South Korea, second in Doha with 58 golds, and Japan, third with 50.

The Indians will have also to overhaul the likes of Kazakhstan and Thailand for a respectable top-five finish.

'The Guangzhou Asian Games are an important milestone in Olympic history,' International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said.

Perhaps what he really meant is the spectacle will be a watershed.

Concerned about China's amazing ability to steal the logistical and medal shows, the governing body of the event, the Asian Olympic Council (OCA), is to tame the proverbial Frankenstein monster in a tracksuit.

The four-yearly event has taken on a life form of its own and its size has spiralled out of control. Oil-rich hosts like Doha and booming economies like China can afford to play one-upmanship every four years.

But the size of the last two Games cannot be matched by the minnows of the region, who are feeling alienated from the Asian sporting family.

Moreover, many are concerned the Games have become too predictable with competition null and void thanks to the domination of perennial champions China.

Of course, an all-conquering China will ensure the stadiums are filled, which will please sponsors, advertisers and the Guangzhou mayor's office.

But we will never see the likes of Guangzhou again. At its first Sports Congress in Kuwait in March, the OCA vowed to scale back the event to ensure its long-term survival and fairness.

'We have to slim down the Games after Guangzhou, starting with South Korea in 2014,' senior OCA official Manuel Silverio said.

'It will never be this big again. We have to cut down the disciplines to around 30 to 35 and make it more manageable for the majority of our 45 National Olympic Committee members. We have too many events. We need to instil some discipline.'

He said the aim was to share the medals and create more opportunities for the continent's athletes.

'We want the smaller nations to feel they can stage one of our events,' he said.

China had invested much in sport, he said, and whether this was 'good or bad for the Asian Games is not the question'.

'China is already making big business out of sport tourism and is opening the doors to its training centres. This has to be recognised and supported,' he added.

Guangzhou is famous for its textile expos and visiting international traders laden down with sacks of samples.

With new and upgraded sports facilities, the Games legacy will be to add more factories - Grade A athlete production lines - to its bulging business directory.

The ones to beat

China were the runaway winners at the 2006 Asian Games with a gold medal haul of: 165

16th Asian Games

When: November 12-27, 2010

Where: Guangzhou, Guangdong.

Slogan: 'Thrilling Games, Harmonious Asia' Mascot: Five Goats

Competing nations: 45 - Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Krgyzstan, Laos, Lebanon, Macau, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Palestinian territories, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand, East Timor, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Yemen.

Athletes and officials: 12,000

Journalists: 10,000

Volunteers: 60,000

Events: 473

Medals: 1,419

Competition venues: 53 - 12 of which are being built from scratch

Training venues: 19

Budget: 200 billion yuan (HK$226 billion)

Key sponsors: Guangzhou Automobile Group, 361?, Samsung Electronics, China Telecom, JDB Group, China Mobile, China Southern Power Grid.