Beijing grapples with Games legacy four years on

BEIJING: Four years after Beijing hosted a spectacular summer Olym­pics, China’s bustling capital sees vastly improved public transport and infrastructure, but many of the venues built for the event languish unloved, underused and draining public finances.

The jewels in the crown were two architecturally-stunning buildings –the main “Bird’s Nest” stadium and the “Water Cube” aquatics centre, described by International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge as “beautiful” and “unprecedented” venues.       

“The successful hosting of the Olympics was not only splendid for Chinese sports, it ... excited the passion of one billion people about sport,” China’s sports minister Liu Peng was cited as saying by state media last year, summing up the Games legacy for Beijing.

Yet today both places are better known for the steady stream of curious tourists they attract – some 4.61 million visitors in 2011 – rather than as locations for major sporting events.

While the Bird’s Nest does host the odd football match or track and field competition, it has also been the site of what was billed as China’s first rodeo, a “winter wonderland” theme park, and concerts.

The neighbouring Water Cube lost an estimated 11 million yuan last year, even with a state subsidy and revenue from an attached water park built after the Olympics to capitalise on its fame.       

Other venues have fared even worse than the Bird’s Nest or Water Cube.

The kayaking venue sits all but abandoned, what water remaining in it being sucked up by a large pipe to quench a surrounding park in the midst of a typically parched Beijing spring .       

The rowing venue, located in a remote and hard to reach northeastern suburb, now hosts mostly small dinghys. Neither sport is well-known in China, which partly explains the almost total abandonment.       

Some sites, such as for table tennis and wrestling, were built inside universities.       

“They were given these huge venues ... and they had no event management experience, and they weren’t allowed to get any before the Olympic Games,” said Susan Brownell, professor of anthropology and expert on Chinese sports at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. — Reuters

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