Britain’s 20% accreditation boost for Beijing

Neil Wilson, of the Daily Mail, straight from a trip to Beijing, reports on some of the conditions likely to be encountered by journalists working at the 2008 Olympic Games

Britain has been offered a 20 per cent increase by the International Olympic Committee in accreditations for journalists and photographers for the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008. Those extra places – possibly as many as 40 more than were available in 2004 – come in recognition that there will be greater interest because London is the next host city.

That is the good news. Enthusiasm for taking up those credentials should be carefully weighed against the problems you may experience, if a recent visit to China’s capital is a measure.

We must hope that the International Olympic Committee’s accreditation is a visa in itself, as is promised, because obtaining a media visa otherwise can be horrendously time-consuming. Those Britons who accredited for the recent world junior athletics championships there suffered over-bearing bureaucracy and a steadfast refusal to release the visa until the embassy had received a letter of “welcome” from its government.

The might of Lamine Diack, the president of the athletics world body, the IAAF, who personally intervened to sort out the problems of European media, failed to shift the Chinese mandarins.

The Times and the Daily Mail beseiged the Chinese embassy in London for five weeks without success in spite of letters of confirmation from the newspapers, the IAAF and, ironically, the organisers of the event in Beijing.

Ultimately, they were released at the consulate in Gothenburg on the last day possible before departure, and injury was added to the insult by the charging of a “rush fee”. One hopes the IOC has more clout than the IAAF.

Once the visa is obtained, passage through Beijing airport was swift and painless. Indeed, after Heathrow, it was a revelation, all smiles, space and speed.

A tip here though from one journalist who took the cheap fare option offered by China’s national airline. You will not enjoy a G’nT or a cold Chablis! Juice and beer only.

BOCOG plans to offer media accomodation in three villages not more than 20 minutes from the Olympic Green where the main events and media/broadcast centres are located. These will have 6,000 rooms available in the style of the 1988 Games in Seoul, although the very necessary air conditioning is promised.

There will also be hotels offered in five-, four- and three-star categories, although three-star in China is far less than three-star in Europe. Top end hotels will cost $353 per night and four-star $272. Not cheap then but BOCOG promises that tourist hotels generally – 658 star-rated hotels exist with 80 more being built – will be cheaper than Athens.

Those willing to stay in Chinese hotels and eat local cuisine will find it far cheaper than Athens but in Western hotels prices are non-London UK prices. The great drawback of “going native” is the language. Almost nobody speaks English – nor any other language but Chinese – and even on reception in Western hotels language skills are minimal. Basic requests are understood but do not expect to be able to argue about your bill. “Sorry” will be their only response.

There will be the usual media transport into the hub of the MPC but taxis are numerous and cheap. A 40-minute journey – and traffic means many take that long – will not push the meter beyond a fiver. All receipts are computerised and identical in form in every cab.

You will, however, need to show your destination on paper in Chinese script. Not even a word as international as Sheraton means anything to them when pronounced by a Westerner.

Hotels have English-style squared three pin electrical plugs but that was not so in the stadium where we worked, where you needed a US-style two pin adapter.

Communications are good by mobile but data transmission by mobile was more miss than hit. BOCOG promises broadband wireless will be purchaseable for the duration to cover all venues and the MPC but not necessarily media hotels. This will be dependent on each hotel’s own facilities.

One other tip – it can be very hot (30C plus) and unpleasantly humid, with occasional violent thunderstorms. So plan for three shirts a day and a brolly. And stock up on deodorant.