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Beijing Olympic venues busy but not with sport

Updated: 2009-08-07 14:00

BEIJING: The Sun Beach Theme Park was probably not the legacy foremost in the minds of Olympic organisers when they spent billions of dollars building the venues for last year's Beijing Games.

That did not bother five-year-old Liu Lin on Wednesday, however, as she buried herself in the pristine imported sand of the Chaoyang Park stadium, where Olympic medals were decided in beach volleyball last August.

China was determined to have iconic venues like the Bird's Nest stadium and Water Cube aquatics centre for their first hosting of the Games, but were also keen to avoid leaving a legacy of unused "White Elephants" dotting the city.

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"The international media's eyes are trained on the Games venues in Beijing ... to see how they would be used after the sports gala," Beijing organising committee official Jiang Xiaoyu wrote in the state media this week.

"Some Olympic cities staged very successful Olympics, but their image suffered after the Games because they failed to use the sport venues effectively."

Liu's sandy playground is a typical example of how that has been done so far, with venue owners cashing in on tourism -- to the extent of 7.4 million yuan ($1.08 million) a month in the case of the beach -- and "cultural events" rather than elite athletic competition.

Sport does return to the Bird's Nest for the first time since the Paralympics to mark the first anniversary of the Olympic opening ceremony on Saturday, when Inter Milan play Lazio in Italian soccer's Super Cup.

That has been the exception rather than the rule, however, with tourists and the occasional music concert covering the huge costs of running the $450 million showpiece where Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt stunned the world last August.

"We were surprised by the flow of the tourists, so we adjusted our plan to focus on tourism," said Zhang Hengli, the venue's deputy manager.

"The maintenance cost of the Bird's Nest is about 70 million yuan ($10.25 million) and the financial repayments about 80-90 million yuan a year, which can be covered by the current income."


At the neighbouring Water Cube, where Michael Phelps won his record eight gold medals, Russian ballet dancers and synchronised swimmers have been wowing the crowds with a version of Swan Lake.

If a 200 yuan tickets for that show is too rich for the wallet, the public can just visit the venue for 50 yuan, and, once having passed a proficiency test, take a dip in one of the practice pools for an extra 20 yuan.

The venues have been cashing in on merchandising too, with goods ranging from Bird's Nest ashtrays to a Water Cube branded version of the fiery Chinese liquor Moutai.

"Beijing has made some initial achievements in the proper use of sport venues to meet people's needs," Jiang continued.

"The Olympic Green has become a new popular tourist spot. The number of visitors these venues drew exceeded even that (of the Forbidden City) for some time after the Games."

The owners, mostly state-owned enterprises, realise that memories of the Olympics alone will not sustain them long term and they need to put in more attractions to cover their costs.

"To keep the current flow of people we have to develop more content such as a daily show," Zhang added.

"And we are also planning to periodically put on shows similar to the Opening Ceremony in the evening."

More sport is planned as well, with the Bird's Nest playing host to November's Race of Champions, featuring Formula One drivers Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button among others.

In October the $6 million China Open tennis tournament will be held for the first time at the Olympic venue, one of the new "crown jewel" events for the women with world number one Rafael Nadal slated to take part in the men's event.

The Wukesong basketball arena, which is co-managed by the National Basketball Association (NBA), is likely to be packed to the rafters on October 11 for a pre-season game between the Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets.

Newer sports have also been attracted to Beijing with the mixed martial artists of the Art of War circuit clashing with customary blood and gore in the Olympic Sports Centre Gymnasium twice this year.

A far cry from Liu and her bucket and spade, perhaps, but also part of the Olympic legacy for the Chinese capital.