Scepticism in Shenzhen at hosting of student Games

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 December, 2010, 12:00am

Is Shenzhen ready to embrace the 2011 Universiade, also known as the world university games, next summer?

That's the question on the mind of many of the city's residents, and they haven't necessarily been assuaged by neighbouring Guangzhou's successful hosting of the Asian Games last month.

The city spent 4.1 billion yuan (HK$4.78 billion) on building the 60,000-seat Universiade Centre in Longgang district - 500 million yuan more than it cost to build Beijing's 'Bird's Nest' National Stadium, the focal point of the 2008 Olympics.

It's all part of an infrastructure binge centring on a 13.4 square kilometre Universiade city that will also include an 18,000-seat indoor arena and an athletes' village.

Propaganda officials are quick to point out the opportunity the Games offer Shenzhen to advance its international reputation. But it's hard to see how they can be serious.

The Games are a biennial multi-sport event organised by the International University Sports Federation. The most recent games took place in July last year in the Serbian capital, Belgrade - not that the world's media paid much attention to them.

They attracted just a few hundred reporters compared with the 21,600 accredited for the Beijing Olympics and 9,500 for Guangzhou's Asian Games.

People in Shenzhen have also had their fears fuelled by horrendous traffic jams, a poor construction safety record and the unedifying sight of officials fighting one another over construction delays.

The latest concern to add to the list emerged this month when a report in the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis News said Shenzhen had suddenly decided to consider changing the venue for the Universiade's opening ceremony, which is just eight months away.

The paper quoted an unidentified source in the Games executive office as saying that the decision to reconsider the venue was inspired by the spectacular opening and closing ceremonies at Guangzhou's Asian Games, which highlighted the Pearl River and helped show Guangzhou to the world.

That's something Shenzhen wants to emulate. However, the designated venue in Shenzhen's northeastern Longgang district is surrounded by undeveloped land, which will make it hard to stand out, even if the world's media can be encouraged to attend.

The opening and closing ceremonies department was told to drop an existing plan and draft a new one for the opening ceremony at Shenzhen Bay (Mirs Bay), the paper said, quoting department sources. The authorities refused to comment on the report but did not deny the possibility of a change.

The news sparked a public uproar.

'The sudden change will only show that the authorities were either shortsighted before or chop and change,' Gong Wentao, a Shenzhen IT engineer, said. 'The athletes' village and the 4.1 billion yuan, 60,000-seat Universiade Centre are already built in Longgang. If they move the opening to Shenzhen Bay, how will they transport the more than 10,000 athletes from the athletes' village to Shenzhen Bay in the south? And how will they accommodate an audience of 60,000?'

Zhang Xiaobin, another Shenzhen resident, said the authorities may have left it too late. 'Is eight months enough to redesign all these things - public security, crowd management, car parks, rehearsals and infrastructure? It just makes us very worried about whether our city is ready for such a significant event.'

Delays may also threaten Shenzhen's Universiade hopes, with Liang Daoxing, the head of the Games executive office, admitting in September that construction, repairs and testing at many venues were still behind schedule, posing an extreme challenge to the organising body's timetable.

On May 28, two senior officials from the municipal public works bureau vented their anger on a project manager over repeated delays to Universiade-related construction - throwing an ashtray and water bottles at him.

According to local media, the bureau later apologised, while explaining that its officials were under great pressure to complete infrastructure on schedule.

The chairman of the Belgrade Universiade said it cost them Euro75 million (HK$771.6 million).

There's little evidence that the Universiade did anything to increase Belgrade's international profile but, for better or worse, that hasn't stopped Shenzhen officials from trying - at much greater cost.