Bucking a national trend of spending lavishly on international events, Nanjing , the capital of Jiangsu province , has pledged to host the Asian Youth Games in August in an economical way.
Nanjing Communist Party Secretary Yang Weize was tight-lipped on whether the low-key approach was a response to the mainland leadership's calls for curbs on extravagance and wastage of public money, but he exuded confidence about the city's ability to organise a successful multi-sport event on a tight budget.
"We want to make a breakthrough, trying our best to make the games a grand event filled with youthful enthusiasm," he said. "It will also be a great cultural event for youngsters, who will feel joyful, thrilled and impressed."
The operating budget for the Asian Youth Games - for athletes aged between 14 and 17 - is 1 billion yuan (HK$1.26 billion), about 7 per cent of the 13.6 billion yuan budget for the Asian Games held in Guangzhou three years ago. The Asian Youth Games made their debut in Singapore four years ago, and the second games in Nanjing will be held from August 16 to August 24. Yang said more than 3,600 athletes had registered for the event, which will feature 118 events in 15 sports.
Mainland cities have previously taken advantage of international events such as the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008, the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010 and the Fortune Forum in Chengdu this month to ramp up the construction of infrastructure and present their best face to the world. Shanghai is estimated to have spent US$95 billion on infrastructure for the World Expo, making it the most expensive show of its kind ever. Guangzhou is reportedly mired in 210 billion yuan of debt after organising the Asian Games, although the city government has denied the claims.
The lavish spending on international sporting events and expositions has provoked public anger, with many criticising governments for wasting money on building facilities that could become white elephants. However, smaller cities have still been keen to win bids to host international events in the belief that they would give a big boost to the local economy and lay a solid foundation for future development.
The Asian Youth Games in Nanjing are widely believed to mark a watershed in the reversal of that trend, with local government officials now having to go back to basics and assess the balance between spending and output before deciding whether to apply for hosting rights. After coming to power late last year, Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping has called for curbs on extravagant meals and tours for officials, in what is being seen as a clear message that the top leadership is focused on the pursuit of sustainable economic growth and giving priority to the interests of the people.
But while Nanjing appears to be spearheading the move to save money, city officials have shied away from linking its efforts to the leadership's calls.
Yang said the Asian Youth Games' legacy for the city's residents would the inspiration from sportsmanship left behind by the event.
"The economic benefits might not turn out to be as big as other international sports events," he said. "We have few investments in infrastructure that could boost the economy."
Nanjing will mainly use stadiums built for the National Games in 2009 for the Asian Youth Games, while the athletes' village, built by Nanjing University of Technology, will be used to accommodate young teaching staff after the event.
The opening and closing ceremonies will also be small-scale affairs, and Yang said organisers would avoid having to purchase new equipment for the games by borrowing from sporting organisations and renting from companies.