China is ready - and the world is waiting

August 7th, 2008 - 11:09 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Roger Federer
Beijing, Aug 7 (DPA) China has everything in place to stage an Olympic Games that will change the world’s perception of the country, International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Jacques Rogge said on the eve of the opening ceremony. “We are extremely eager to get the Games going. It is kind of an expectation an athlete has before competing,” he said.

“We have prepared for seven years and done everything needed. You long for the competition.”

Rogge reiterated that he had faith in China’s organisers despite criticism of the country’s human rights record and other sensitive issues.

China plans to showcase itself on a grand scale in the August 8-24 Games which bring together around 11,000 athletes from 205 countries in 28 sports, with 302 gold medals to be won.

“The Games differ in terms of identity. This will change the perception of China. The Games will help the world to understand China better and perhaps help China to understand the world better,” said Rogge.

The Games, meanwhile, got off to the best of starts Thursday for Argentina superstar Lionel Messi on the first day of the men’s football tournament after his club Barcelona cleared him to play.

Messi put the Olympic champions ahead and helped set an 85th-minute winner from Lautaro Acostar in a 2-1 win over Ivory Coast.

A day earlier, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled that Barcelona, as well as the German clubs Schalke and Werder Bremen could recall their Brazilian players, Rafinha and Diego respectively, from the Games.

Both also played as Brazil snatched a late 1-0 win over Belgium.

The ruling prompted an angry response from football supremo Joseph Blatter, who pleaded to the clubs to let them stay in China.

So did Rogge, who said: “I plea along with Joseph Blatter to leave the players in China and let them live their dream. Football is very important. We are keen to have the best possible players at the tournament.”

Although ready to host the Games, China is walking a thin line between full control by the communist government and openness demanded by the international community and the IOC whose values could be dented by too many restrictions.

But Rogge said: “The position of the IOC is very clear: Wherever in a country people are they have to respect the laws of that country.”

Thursday, China’s organisers had to issue a public apology in the media centre when opening ceremony restrictions in the form of an extra sticker on the accreditation badge were also - wrongly - demanded Thursday on entering the media centre.

Reporters were as furious as last week when it took several days to get the Chinese to at least partly live up to their promise of unrestricted internet access for the Olympic media.

US President George W. Bush was the most prominent visitor to arrive Thursday as more than 80 heads of state and other dignitaries are to attend the grand opening in the National Stadium Friday.

Chinese President Hu Jintao will be working overtime officially opening the Games and meeting with Bush, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and others.

Elsewhere, the torch relay had its penultimate day start on the Great Wall of China before culminating in the lighting of the Olympic cauldron during Friday’s opening ceremony.

The celebration will see basketball star Yao Ming as flag-bearer for the Chinese team while China and Sudan could be embarrassed when the US team follows the Stars and Stripes held by Sudan-born refugee Lopez Lomong.

The Swiss flag will be carried by Roger Federer on his 27th birthday and Federer hopes to get tennis gold at last on Aug 17, the day before he will be dethroned as top-ranked player after four and a half years by Spain’s Rafael Nadal.

“To win the US Open or the Olympics would certainly save it (the season),” said Federer.

The 120th IOC Session ended Thursday with elections for seats in the powerful IOC executive board.

The 1984 400m hurdles gold medallist Nawal El Moutawakel of Morocco was the first woman from the Muslim world to join the EB. Others included former Namibian sprinter Frankie Fredericks, who is the athletes’ representative.

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