Beijing strides towards best-ever Olympics despite SARS impact

The crisis of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 did not stop Beijing's march towards its ambitious goal -- to host the best-ever Olympic Games.

Although SARS had forced the cancellation or relocation of several sports events planned for China, including women's soccer World Cup and women's ice hockey world championship, Beijing, the hardest hit city by the flu-like disease in the world, accomplished all main tasks set for the year.

The emblem for the 2008 Olympics, which was originally planned for launch in May this year, was unveiled on Aug. 3 at a spectacular gala.

Barely a month after the unveiling of the emblem, Beijing Olympic organizers launched a high-profile marketing program, and construction of several Olympic venues is to start by the end of this year.

"Beijing's preparations for the 2008 Olympic have been well on track," said Jiang Xiaoyu, vice president of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2008 Games (BOCOG).

Despite having to postpone launch events due to SARS, BOCOG had managed to minimize the impact by taking the time to prepare a grand launch ceremony and engaging in world-wide legal processes to protect the emblem.

With lasers, giant balloons and bursts of confetti, the logo was presented to an eagerly-awaited world on Aug. 3 at the Temple of Heaven -- one of the ultimate symbols of traditional Chinese culture.

The emblem, entitled "Chinese Seal--Dancing Beijing", features a single Chinese character on a traditional red Chinese seal with the words "Beijing 2008" written in an eastern-style brush stroke.

The stick-figure that comprises the logo looks like a lively runner and also mimics the Chinese character "jing" meaning the Chinese capital, or Beijing.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge described the emblem as "young" and "dynamic".

"In this emblem, I saw the promise and potential of a New Beijing and a Great Olympics," said Rogge.

BOCOG then fired starters' gun on the sponsor race in the hope of covering the 1.6-billion-US-dollar operational cost.

The lucrative marketing plan is composed of licensing, sponsorship and partnership programs. Partnerships and sponsorships include four-year exclusive marketing rights, while the licensing program authorizes companies to produce and sell products with the official Olympic emblem only after paying royalties to BOCOG.

"There has never been a marketing event so powerful and so full of promise," Rogge told 600 Chinese and foreign business leaders and officials at the launch ceremony of the marketing program.

"The games will open the gates to the most important market in the world," he added.

The Olympics are a profitable business, with big investments yielding big profits. The Sydney Games in 2000 reaped 400 million US dollars from national sponsorships, which unlike TOP fees go predominantly to the hosts.

"We hope that our revenues can be a little more than Sydney," said Liu Jingmin, BOCOG's executive vice president.

BOCOG said last month they had "targeted" the first batch of domestic sponsors.

"We are in the process of selecting the first group of partners," Yuan Bin, deputy director of BOCOG's marketing department, told a press conference.

"The candidate partners are from the four categories, including automobile, banking, fixed telecommunication and mobile communications," she said.

Yuan also dropped a hint that the domestic partner in a certain field is likely to pay as much as the TOP sponsors. TOP sponsors usually pay over 50 million US dollars each for the quadrennial Olympic Games.

The IOC has signed nine of 12 TOP sponsors backing the Beijing Games worldwide, including Coca-Cola, General Electric and Visa.

After completing the conceptual designs of and public tenders for four Olympic venues, Beijing embarked on a three-year construction project.

With an investment of 3 billion yuan (about 360 million US dollars), the National Stadium, known as "bird's nest" because of its giant lattice-work structure of irregularly angled metal girders, will be the centerpiece of the 2008 Games.

Apart from the National Stadium, the first group of venues to be built also include the National Swimming Center, the Beijing Shooting Range and the Laoshan Velodrome.

Meanwhile, bids for other Olympic projects, including the Olympic park, are also under way.

"The construction work will be in full swing next year and all venues will be ready by the end of 2006," said Jiang.

With more than four years to go, Beijing already has the 2008 Games in sight.

"Beijing will fulfill its promise made during the bidding process -- deliver the best-ever Olympic Games in 2008," said Jiang.

People's Daily Online ---