Beijing build-up offers much for media

VERA ATKINSON, press chief for British Gymnastics, has just returned from a pre-Olympic event in Beijing. Here’s her report for on the working conditions likely to be encountered by reporters, photographers and broadcasters at next summer’s Games

Dust, security and a warm welcome. This sums up my initial impressions from Beijing, nine months before the start of the 2008 Olympic Games.

This monster city of 13 million people still resembles a building site. At the Olympic facilities, work continues around the clock with thousands of Portakabins scattered around, with workers in yellow helmets rushing about. And although most open areas are covered with green plastic sheets, the dust still managed to get everywhere.

All media staff will have the privilege of working from what is to become the “Olympic Green Zone”, the heart of the Games, next August. In it are all the major venues, including the Olympic Village, Main Press Centre, International Broadcasting Centre and two of the media hotels. All are within a walking distance from each other of between 2 and 20 minutes.

The Green Zone contains the unique “Bird Nest” National Stadium, which will host the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, athletics and the football finals; the “Water Cube” Aquatic Centre, and the National Indoor Stadium (NIS) for gymnastics, trampoline, handball and wheelchair basketball events. The fencing, shooting, tennis and hockey venues are also here.

Having experienced the media logistics and operations at the “Good Luck Beijing” tournaments in all the three gymnastics Olympic disciplines, I am confident that the arrangements in place will enable all fellow media professionals to do their job with speed and efficiency.

The Pre-Olympic shuttle buses move with the promptness of Swiss watches, connecting the hotels with the venues. The taxi service is reliable, safe and cheap (no cheating on the fare either!). But it is worth bearing in mind that once inside the taxi you won’t be able to go anywhere unless you speak basic Mandarin, or have the name of your destination written in Chinese.

Time is of the essence during the Games and in this respect, the media logistics within the NIS have been designed to save the busy reporters’ time. Apart from the media stands in the hall, all other facilities are located along one corridor, within 2-3 minutes’ walk from each other: the Mixed Zone is 10-20 steps away from the Press Conference room.

The BOCOG Media Operations Department Director, Sun Weijia, has vowed that all journalists will be able to send their reports to their headquarters directly from the stands via virtual intranet transmission and wireless broadband technology. The service will also be linked to the Olympic INFO system to support download.

Volunteers, just like hospitality staff everywhere, are not merely polite but almost embarrassingly nice. Despite the fact that many of them don’t speak English they all hold the doors open for you as they greet you with a welcome.

“To help resolve the communication problem,” said Ding Zhiyong, the Deputy Venue Manager for the media at the NIS, “we shall have an additional group of 50 foreign students during the Games. To get approved, they all must pass a number of exams related to Media work, Olympic Games and language knowledge.”

A group of 100 such young volunteers was involved in the media operations at the NIS, all dressed in their uniform of orange anoraks and shirts, well behaved, well lectured and well motivated to do a great job. The most popular English words with them were, “Good Morning” (sometimes also used in the evening), “Welcome!” (every time you are in their sight), “Have a nice day!” and, for some, “Your Accreditation, please!”

In fact, you might be asked to show your accreditation twice between the entrance and the work room and to save time and irritation it is best to have accreditations visible at all times. Around the security check points of the facilities military guards in white gloves and green parade uniforms stand upright and motionless.

Last, but not least, there are two must-see places in Beijing, the enormous Tian’-anmen Square and the adjacent Forbidden City. It is guaranteed that you’ll be safe there too thanks to the CCTV cameras on every electricity pole. There must be hundreds of them.

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