China focuses on Britain’s sporting heritage

By Philip Barker
British sport has been put under the microscope this month by the city that is to host the next Olympic Games.

A television crew from CCTV, the Chinese state channel, has been in Britain filming all aspects of sporting activitity ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. “In China, people are curious to know how sport is organised in other countries,” according to the producer working on the project,

Director Zhang Bing of CCTV’S cultural department has a gruelling schedule that takes in Athens and Paris as well as London. His crew had an eight-day stay in this country, during which time they filmed everything from park football to the University boat race crews making ready for their annual tussle on the Thames.

They saw the new Wembley and visited the site of the old White City stadium (now a BBC car park), venue for the first London Olympics in 1908.

There have been a few early starts. They were up before dawn to film the horses on the gallops at Newmarket, where King Charles II was said to enjoy a flutter. They also visited the Shropshire village of Much Wenlock, where the Wenlock Olympian Games were founded in the 1850s by Dr William Penny Brookes.

“Perhaps we will have an exclusive for our viewers, that the Games weren’t just inspired by the Greeks and the French, but by an English country doctor,” said Zhang.

Certainly the good Dr Brookes was in close contact with the Greeks and with Baron Pierre de Coubertin in the years leading up to the founding of the International Olympic Committee and the restoration of the first Modern Games in 1896.

“The Wenlock museum was closed when we got there, but they opened it up specially for us to film,” Zhang said.

The museum’s collection contains the library established with contributions from the great and good. Even the Duke of Welllington sent a volume to a scheme that was to help the local population learn to read as well as to excel in sport.

Which brings us full circle to Beijing. Part of their big offensive is to get everyone ready for the Games by getting the population reading about it.

BOCOG, the Beijing organising committee, has signed agreements with six publishing houses to provide “Olympic Readers”. Already, more than a million books have been sold, aimed at target audiences ranging from primary school children to Games staff.