In its determination to host the best Olympic Games since Chiang Kai-shek was a boy, the Beijing organising committee has clearly not quite grasped the subtleties of Baron de Coubertin’s Olympic maxim: it’s not winning that counts but the taking part.
First we discover the footprint-shaped fireworks in the sky during the Games opening ceremony last Friday night were a fake, the result of some techno-wizardry cooked up in a lab somewhere in downtown Beijing.
Then today, we find out the sweet little girl dressed in red who sang the national anthem on Friday did not sing it at all but was doing a Manilli Vanilli impersonation and lip-synching the whole thing. What we heard, in fact, was a recording of another child, seven-year-old Yang Peiyi, who was dropped from the opening ceremony at the last minute because she was deemed to be not “flawless in image”.
Members of the politburo felt Peiyi’s face was a bit chubby and her teeth slightly crooked, so she was substituted at the last minute. Never mind that she sang like an angel.
That was a serious PR blunder. Giving cosmetic surgery to its opening ceremony has made the Games’ organizers a laughing stock. Now the wow factor has gone. For that stunning creation which had the world drooling is revealed to be a fake — full of collagen lips, breast implants and a botox forehead.
In their desperate quest for perfection, the Beijing authorities have instead left themselves open to ridicule.
There are other signs that de Coubertin’s much-quoted ideal does not have a Chinese equivalent. Or perhaps the message has been lost in translation.
We discover that the Chinese judges at the double trap final yesterday caved in to crowd pressure and awarded points to the Chinese shooter, Hu Binyuan, when he clearly missed his clay targets on three occasions — or so claimed Australian shooter Russell Mark, who was competing in the same event. Thanks to the judges’ generosity, Binyuan took home a bronze medal, when he should have finished fourth or fifth.
There are echoes here of the infamous middleweight final at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 between Park Si-hun, a local hero, and Roy Jones Jr, the brilliant young American who went on to become one of the sport’s greats. In the final, Jones gave a boxing masterclass, recording 86 hits — against Park’s 32 — yet it was the Korean’s hand that was raised after the final bell in a decision that has been described as the worst in the history of amateur boxing.
Before that, at the Moscow Games in 1980, there were allegations that giant doors at the end of the main stadium were opened when Russian throwers were about to hurl their javelins. The ensuing gusts of wind were said to carry the javelins several metres further. The Russians, led by Dainis Kula, won gold, silver and narrowly missed out on bronze in the men’s event.
So the message is clear: once politburos and politicians get involved in Olympic Games, look out. Things are never going to turn out well.
To add to those glitches, there is the issue of those empty seats at the swimming which have supposedly been reserved for corporates. But the corporates are up in the dining room gnawing on their Peking duck and showing scant interest in all that flailing going on down in the pool. As a result, the parents of international swimmers are locked outside and reduced to watching the action on television, or begging for tickets.
Tight security is one thing; complete overkill is another. And, on that theme, did we really need to see members of the People’s Liberation Army goose-stepping their way through a section of the opening ceremony?
So here’s a message to the Chinese authorities — on a website which is bound to feature on their international blacklist, along with the BBC, CNN and the Free Tibet homepage — chill out, get a life and don’t be such tragic wannabes.
As Confucius might have said: Better to compete honestly and finish fourth, than cheat and win. Then you look like complete prat.