Half empty stadia at the Olympics

It seems a tragedy that after all the hard work and effort many athletes have put in around the world we receive reports today that a country of 1200 million people cannot fill the seats for the opening rounds of competition between elite performers who are established as the best in the world. The authorities are bussing in staff from the games to make it look better, but it does lead one to ask what has gone wrong if there are insufficient people to attend on a normal basis. You would have thought that if it were your country hosting the event, and you had the chance to see the greatest and fastest in person at a stadium near you, you would clamouring for tickets.

I must confess in the last few days I have wanted to watch a bit of the Test Match with England’s new Captain, had to get another couple of blog pieces written, needed to pursue a difficult planning matter in the constituency including site visits, decided to catch up on some doorstep conversations, and felt a pressing need to start cleaning my garage out. I ask myself why haven’t I been glued to the TV screen to watch for the latest from Beijing? As I have talked to friends and constituents I have been surprised to find that some of them too have found other pressing engagements, even in this bleak cold and wet summer. I think our reservations at such a distance from Beijing are subliminal and more understandable. I do not think we are getting a fair picture of China from the huge team of BBCcheer leaders for the country, and many of us remain wary of the political use of the games to promote the host nation.

The other day when I was driving to an appointment I heard a BBC journalist offer us a radio essay on what restrictions the media are encountering in modern China. He told us he had been there – at our expense – for 23 days prior to the games. His radio portrait was littered with happy children in the streets, tree lined avenues adffording shade from the sun, the safety of their local communities, and the freer atmosphere toward criticism and alternative views. There was a not a line of criticism, no penetrating comment on the ostensible subject matter of the talk, no detail of what he could and could not say and do as a journalist from the West, and no comment on the censorship and human rights issues that are still so important. It makes me feel uneasy.

The UK government and the BBC have made the games an entertainment for the army of the elite that we are paying to send there. They are in danger of driving a wedge between China, the games and the rest of us. Let us hope some British stars emerge that we all support and want to watch. Well done to our competitors so far. I admire what they are doing, and wish them every success. I would like to see them succeed, but found the opening ceremony with its symbolism of powerful China too much to take. It is just such a pity that so much politics intrudes into the modern Olympics.