News

A catalyst, not a cure - Rogge

8 August 2007

A year from now the Summer Olympic Games will begin in Beijing. Athletes from over 200 nations will participate in an opening ceremony for Games that have come to symbolize China opening up to the world. Many observers will be as interested in judging China's overall performance in 2008 as they will be in the results of athletic competition.

From the moment Beijing's winning bid to host the Games was announced in 2001, expectations were established that the Games would help improve social development in China. Moreover, since then there has been an increasing tendency to expect that the Games can help influence a wide array of matters related to China's evolution that go far beyond sport.

The Olympic Movement does not exist in a vacuum. Sport is part of society. With Beijing, however, one of the great challenges will be to manage expectations that the Olympic Games can influence China's evolution to the extent many observers desire.

It is natural for human rights and other organizations to place their causes in the spotlight that the Beijing Olympic Games is casting on China, and to draw attention to reforms they advocate.

However, the Games can only be a catalyst for change and not a panacea. Any expectations that the International Olympic Committee should apply pressure on the Chinese government beyond what is necessary for Games preparations are misplaced, especially concerning sovereign matters the IOC is not qualified to judge. That was not part of the bid agreement with Beijing when it was awarded the Games. It was not the case for previous Games, nor will it ever be the case for future host cities.

It is important to recognize that China's transformation began long before the Games were awarded to Beijing. Specialists are now observing more legislative progress as well as government acknowledgement that more changes are needed in China's society and economy. Much of this was unimaginable a short time ago.

It wasn't necessarily a deciding factor when the International Olympic Committee voted to award Beijing the Games for the first time in history, but it has since become clear that it is better to open a new door to China than to leave it closed at this point in its modern evolution.

An open door approach will continue to benefit China, its citizens and its relationships with other nations long after the 2008 closing ceremony. In this sense, the IOC believes more than ever that the Beijing 2008 Games offer a great legacy for China to manage and sustain.

The committee must focus on ensuring that athletes can prove themselves to be the pinnacle of sport in 2008. But we are also making sure that China adheres to new legislation allowing necessary access for foreign journalists and that it implements beneficial environmental programs for the Games that will be reviewed by the UN Environmental Program.

All of the dialogue on issues related to China has shown the International Olympic Committee that it must continue to understand the role people expect the Olympic Games to play in an increasingly complex world. Such an understanding will help the Olympic Movement as it endeavors to bring the Games to more places in the world.

Bringing the Olympic Games to Beijing in 2008 is only one step toward fostering warmth between China and the world. This is the hope for all Olympic Games. If the benefits in Beijing have an effect beyond sport arenas, then everyone will win.

Jacques Rogge
President, International Olympic Committee