Beijing facilities ready for media invasion

From Barry Newcombe, Beijing
On the final day of the AIPS Congress in Beijing, delegates were presented with a fascinating contrast which underlined what working at the Olympic Games in China in August is about.

In the morning we visited the Olympic Stadium and the Main Press Centre and then, via a halt for a seven-course lunch at the Quanjude Roasted Duck restaurant, were bussed at high speed and under police escort out of the city and into the mountains to walk the Great Wall of China.

If it was all very informative to visit the bright new Games facilities and recognise Beijing’s desire to be ready for the Press invasion – the Great Wall, mostly built nearly 700 years ago to keep out invaders, is something else. Trudging up the wall in temperatures nudging 40 degrees provided a different dimension to 200 visiting journalists from 88 countries. It made them sweat a bit as well.

Back in the air-conditioned Olympic buildings the working day is going to be comfortable but as so much competition takes place outdoors it would be as well to be aware of the high humidity and temperatures which are unavoidable. Beijing may well set a record in Olympic heat.

There is bound to be smog around, too, but the statistics say the city had 246 blue sky days last year and a record number so far this year.

Our visit coincided with a test event in track and field at the Olympic Stadium and once inside the Birds Nest there are no dramatic differences from any other modern day stadium. In Press operation terms, everything was in place.

The MPC is finished but was some way from final fitting out. It is a three-storey monster, the biggest in Olympic history, with 971 seats at unassigned writing desks, an 800-seat conference room and all the usual support systems. The MPC, IBC and accreditation centres will all open for business on July 8. The two media villages with 7000 rooms open on July 25. A further 10,000 rooms will be provided by hotels. All 21,600 accredited media and broadcasters will be in this spread of accommodation.

The journey into Beijing, where the IOC promises 28 sports in state of the art facilities, will almost invariably start at the new airport and its Terminal Three, which deals with international flights. New highway and train links will speed the journey to the city but how the authorities cope with Beijing’s notorious traffic jams remains to be seen.

BOCOG insists that the media can cover all aspects of Chinese society “as long as they have the interviewees’ consent”, and the words and pictures will flow from internet and high definition links.

The IOC will continue to issue tickets to the media for high-demand events — opening and closing ceremonies and all swimming finals for certain, and will monitor basketball if it stages a final between China and the United States, as well as gymnastics, table tennis gold medal matches and volleyball at gold medal stage.

The dual script scoreboards will provide faster and wider ranging information than ever before which means live commentators will certainly have to keep a close eye on changing patterns of information.

The AIPS Congress coincided with the official three-day mourning period for the victims of the earthquake in Sichuan province and Gianni Merlo, the AIPS president, announced a $20,000 donation to China Red Cross. Other events planned to enhance the Congress were cancelled.

Congress business included planning future venues, so Merlo will be seeking re-election in home town Milan next year. Then AIPS will go to Antalya, Turkey, in 2010 followed by an African or South American venue in 2011. Discussions on staging the 2012 Congress in London are at a preliminary stage.

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