City Characteristics and Coverage of China's Bid to Host the Olympics

Article excerpt

Coverage of China's bid to host the 2000 Olympics was negative overall. Newspapers in communities with higher education levels, more professional people, more Asian Americans and more avid readers were less favorable in coverage.

n December 4, 1991, China submitted an official application to sponsor the 27th Olympics in the year 2000. This marked the first time in China's seventy year history with the Olympic Games that the People's Republic of China requested the right to serve as hosts.

In order to host the Olympic Games, a nation must offer a stable society; a prosperous economy; good management capacity and a relatively high level of competitiveness of its own athletes.(1) Including China, five countries felt they satisfied this criteria. As the decision time approached, the contest narrowed to a competition between Beijing, China and Sydney, Australia; two cities and countries which could not be more different.

Sydney, Australia's most populous city, offered a cosmopolitan atmosphere in a democratic, first world country of European descent. Australia's supporters cited its: greater economic ability to host the Games; open, multicultural society; rich tradition with the Olympics; modern sporting facilities; and natural beauty. In addition to its residents, Sydney's bid was supported by a major sporting organization affiliated with the International Olympic Committee, political parties, trade unions, indigenous aboriginal groups, and Greenpeace- the international environmental group, which endorsed Sydney's bid for giving emphasis to the environmental aspects of the Games. "The International Olympic Committee itself evaluated Sydney's proposal as technically the best."(2)

In contrast, Beijing, China offered a third world, developing country with authoritarian rule and an Asian venue. China's supporters contended that in the history of the Olympics only two Asian countries and three developing countries had hosted the Games; and, with China composing one-fifth of the world's population and having a 5,000 year long history it deserved recognition in the world community. Besides China's government, Beijing's most influential supporter may have been IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch. While their reasoning differed - China's government sought world acceptance and Samaranch sought the Nobel Prize - both viewed Beijing's bid as a "dramatic way of leading the Olympic movement into the next millennium."(3)

Despite backing from the IOC president, Beijing's bid was met with stiff opposition from the U.S. Congress, the British Parliament, and numerous human rights groups. Their main concerns were with China's economic resources available for the Olympics and ongoing record of human rights violations. For example, U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos blasted China for "the imprisonment of thousands of political dissidents and the use of prison labor to manufacture products for export to this country."(4)

On September 23, 1993, IOC officials gathered in Monte Carlo, Monaco to decide who would host the 27th Olympic Games. After four ballots, Sydney emerged as the victor by a 45-43 vote. In the end, "most IOC voters ultimately followed the lead of the 12-member IOC inquiry commission that gave Sydney the highest marks after visiting all five candidate cities."(5)

China's colossal effort had fallen short by one vote. Did China's human rights record affect its bid? What role should politics play in sports? Would the Olympics really help China's political reform or would it only strengthen the existing regime?

Political issues apart, coverage of China's Olympic bid raises significant communication issues in the post-Cold War era. It is reasonable to expect that political coverage of China in the Cold War period was relatively negative and relatively uniform. There is little reason to expect that major city newspapers would display significant variation in coverage, little reason to believe different cities or their major newspapers would manifest markedly varied interests in perspectives on China in that period. …