Giving the Summer Games to China proved to be the right thing to do and will pay benefits beyond sports, the International Olympic Committee said Sunday, even though it still won’t solve “all the ills of the world” or hasten political change.
“It has been a long journey since our decision in July 2001 to bring the Olympic Games to China, but there can now be no doubt that we made the right choice,” IOC president Jacques Rogge said on the final day of the Olympics.
Despite the grand success of the games in terms of organization, sports venues and athletic performances, the IOC has been accused of failing to get China to live up to promises of improvements in human rights and press freedoms.
“We are first and foremost an organization devoted to sport, but it is sport with a purpose,” Rogge said. “The IOC and the Olympic Games cannot force changes on sovereign nations or solve all the ills of the world. But we can, and we do, contribute to positive change through sport.”
The Olympics, he said, brought unprecedented global scrutiny to the emerging superpower with one-fifth of the world’s population.
“The world has learned about China, and China has learned about the world, and I believe this is something that will have positive effects for the long term,” Rogge said.
Rogge said the Olympics are leaving China with a long-term legacy of sporting facilities, improved urban infrastructure and greater environmental awareness.
“Some of the changes in China are obvious today,” he said. “Others will become apparent with time. The legacy of these games for China is ultimately up to the Chinese people.”
Rogge planned to give his final verdict on the games at the closing ceremony Sunday night, but said London would have a tough act to follow when it hosts the 2012 Olympics.
“It is clear that China has put the bar very high,” he said at a news conference. “So it’s going to be a challenge for London and all the subsequent games. I believe and my hope will be London can even put the bar higher.”
Roge acknowledged that not everything was “perfect” for media access to the Internet during the games, and expressed surprise that no citizen protest permits had been granted.
While Olympics organizers promised to set aside three protest zones in the city during the competition, authorities said all of the 77 applications for permits to protest were either withdrawn or rejected.
“We found it unusual that none of these applications have come through,” Rogge said, adding the IOC was told the cases had been resolved through “mutual agreement.”
Earlier this week, two elderly Chinese women — Wu Dianyuan, 79, and her neighbor Wang Xiuying, 77 — who applied to protest were told they would be sent to a labor camp for a year. They were still at home Thursday under the surveillance of a government-sanctioned neighborhood watch group.
“We heard about these cases and we discussed them with BOCOG,” Rogge said, referring to the local Olympic organizing committee. “The reply we received from the Chinese authorities — this was an application of Chinese law. The International Olympic Committee is not a sovereign organization. We have to respect Chinese law.”
On the sports front, Rogge noted that athletes from a record 87 teams won medals, and that more than 40 world records and 120 Olympic records had been set. He singled out American swimmer Michael Phelps, winner of a record eight gold medals, and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, who won three golds and broke three world records, as the two “icons of the games.”
Rogge stood by his controversial comments criticizing Bolt for failing to show respect to his fellow competitors after winning the 100 and 200 meters, but said he meant it as “fatherly advice.”
“Yes, of course I have been criticized for various issues,” said Rogge, who has been accused of being out of touch. “The Bolt issue, I mean I take it with a big smile.”
“I stand by what I said,” he added. “I said that he was the icon of the games together with Michael Phelps. I have great respect for his abilities. I thought that, and I repeat what I said, he should show more respect for his opponents but I’ve also said in the same way he was a young man of 22 and that he has time to mature.”’
Rogge also offered praise to American shooter Matt Emmons, who lost gold for a second straight Olympics when his gun went off before he aimed on the final shot of the three-position rifle. His wife Katerina, a Czech Republic shooter, approached him after his misfire to console him.
“What moved me most is the attitude of this man,” Rogge said. “The positive attitude to say: ‘This is a big failure, I take responsibility but I’ll come back and I will win gold.’ I think this is the true spirit of the Olympic Games.”
“There are issues London will not be able to equal,” Rogge said. “It is clear that the ability to bring in hundreds of thousands of volunteers in the different sites ... is something that number-wise is not going to be easy for London.”
Rogge described Britain as the nation that invented modern sports, codified its rules and “brought in the values of fair play and other values. So I think that is the identity that has to be built around London. London is also a very cosmopolitan city, multiethnic, multicultural, multi-religious so this is something you can also use as an asset.”
Sebastian Coe, head of the London organizing committee, has promised London will be fun games.
“We are going to work on generating a party atmosphere,” he said a few days ago.