Beijing 2008 Games organisers earn praises for flawless test events

BEIJING: After a barrage of criticism over pollution, human rights and other issues, Beijing Olympic organisers are winning new friends this week as pre-Games test events run almost flawlessly. 

Athletes and officials who travelled to Beijing from all over the world for rowing and other test events have been full of praise for the venues, and the surprising lack of pollution. 

“The water is very clean and the venue is the best I have ever seen,” said Russian single sculls rower Denis Pribyl at the Sunyi Olympic rowing venue. 

“Pollution is a bigger factor at home in Russia.” 

The upbeat mood and blue skies in the Chinese capital stand in contrast to the launch last week of the one-year countdown, when the city was enveloped in a thick smog that reduced visibility to just a few hundred metres. 

As China celebrated then, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge warned that the pollution was so bad that some events might have to be postponed next year. 

Human rights organisations, press freedom advocates, free-Tibet groups and other activists also used the one-year mark as a platform to publicise their causes, further clouding China's celebration efforts. 

But now clear skies have replaced the haze and the focus has switched back to sport, with Beijing staging major international events in hockey and beach volleyball, as well as the rowing. 

“We heard about pollution fears but looking at the sky today and enjoying this weather, we don't see any problem. It's fantastic,” said Canadian beach volleyballer Anouk Boileau on Monday. 

John Coates, a former rowing cox and now the head of Australia's Olympic Committee, described the Games rowing venue, a man-made basin northeast of Beijing, as the best of its kind in the world. 

The hockey venue, part of a cluster of more than half the Games venues in northern Beijing, was also given the seal of approval after it hosted a four-nation tournament which ended on Monday. 

“It is an absolutely fantastic stadium – I give it 9.5 out of 10 and I hope we can use it after the Olympics, said Arjen Meijer, the International Hockey Federation's communications manager. 

“Beijing really did a good job here.” – AFP  

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