Beijing wins 2008 Olympics

Beijing has been awarded the 2008 Summer Olympics.

"The Games of the 29th Olympiad in 2008 are awarded to the city of Beijing," said IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch after the second round of voting was completed.

The decision hardly came as a shock, but the speed with which the result came did surprise a lot of observers. Many expected that it would take three or four ballots to determine the winner.

Beijing received a majority of second-round votes with 56. Toronto was second with 22, Paris was third with 18, and Istanbul was fourth with nine.

Osaka had been eliminated from the running after finishing last in the first round with six votes. Beijing won 44 votes in the first round, with 20 going to Toronto and in a surprise result, Istanbul outpolled Paris 17 to 15. Many speculated that some IOC members "parked" their votes with Istanbul in the first round to save it from a humiliating result.

While crowds in Beijing immediately rejoiced under a night sky filled with fireworks, a pall of silence and dejection descended on the thousands assembled in downtown Toronto who hoped the Canadian bid could pull off an upset of the heavily-favoured Beijing bid.

It was the second crushing disappointment for Toronto in little more than a decade. Toronto finished third in the running for the 1996 Summer Olympics, which went to Atlanta, in 1989.

Toronto supporters were hopeful that its bid was gaining ground on Beijing, especially as activists, human rights groups and politicians around the world denounced China's human rights record. But for all the talk of picking up momentum and votes during a hectic week of unofficial campaigning in Moscow, Toronto didn't even come close.

Although many were bitterly disappointed that Toronto was not awarded the Olympics, others were simply outraged that they would be given to China.

Even as the crowd dispersed from the street in front of Union Station, the city's major downtown transit hub, a small group of people carried placards that read, "No Olympics for China until Tibet is free."

"We don't want Olympics in China," said Tashi Guialgsen, who was bearing a Tibetan flag. "I'm very, very sad and I'm very, very angry."

There was a minor skirmish between people waving Chinese flags and celebrating Beijing's victory and pro-Tibetan demonstrators, but a large police presence prevented the situation from escalating.

For Beijing, the victory was especially sweet after losing out on the 2000 Olympics to Sydney by just two votes. Then, as now, Samaranch was thought to favour the Beijing bid.

"Possibly today this opens a new era for China," said Samaranch, voicing what most observers have long thought is the outgoing president's hope that his legacy will be sparking a democratic transformation of China through the Olympics.

Even before the voting began in Moscow, there was a sense that it would turn out to be a real Friday the 13th for the Toronto bid.

During the final presentations each of the five candidate cities made to IOC members on Friday, Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman's controversial remarks about Kenyans loomed much larger as an issue with the IOC than China's much-criticized human rights record. 

While an IOC member from Guinea, Ibrahim Diallo, said Lastman's comments amounted to an "infringement to the Olympic movement's universal values of man," no challenging questions about China's repressive government were thrown at the Beijing bid.

"I had a bad feeling when there were no questions about human rights," Nigerian-born Canadian Olympic gold medallist Daniel Igali, who was in Moscow to help promote the Toronto bid, told CBC. "We're talking about Olympic Day, celebrated around the world. There's blood on the fields (the athletes are) going to be competing on.

"I hate to see this going to China with everything happening there."

Igali also felt that the outcome of the vote showed that the minds of most IOC members were made up before they saw the presentations.

"People may think I'm biased," Igali told CBC, "but if you really look at the presentations, people from the outside would say that it was a slam dunk."

The Toronto bid committee was also angered by a last-minute curveball thrown at them by the IOC ethics committee, which ruled that Toronto bid member Charmaine Crooks and a Japanese IOC member could not participate in their respective countries' presentations Friday, citing a conflict of interest.

Crooks resigned from her post on the ethics commission in order to play her part in the bid presentation, but many with the Toronto bid felt the timing of the ruling was suspicious, alleging that the IOC was making up new rules in order to speed the way for Beijing.

There were even reports that Samaranch was working to get Gen. Lassana Palenfo, a pro-Beijing IOC member from Ivory Coast, released from prison so he could vote.

Ultimately, the IOC sided with Beijing's and Samaranch's contention that whatever the human rights abuses that occur in China, hosting the Olympics will bring China into the world's political mainstream and encourage democratic reform.

"More than 90 per cent of the Chinese people support Beijing's bid, many because they believe it will help improve their quality of life," Beijing Mayor Lui Qi said during Beijing's final presentation to the IOC on Friday. "It will help promote our economic and social policies and will further help develop our human rights cause."

"On the human rights question we have achieved a tremendous progress," echoed Yuan Weimin, China's minister of sports. "In the next stage of our national development we will continue to open ourselves wider to the outside world and carry out more reforms."

In Beijing, Chinese President Jiang Zemin and other high-ranking Communist officials joined the colourful celebration following Samaranch's declaration of the winner.

"Comrades!" Jiang greeted to the crowd. "We express our deep thanks to all our friends around the world and to the IOC for helping to make Beijing successful in its Olympic bid."

Tiananmen Square, the Beijing's civic centre that became infamous for the 1989 massacre that took place there, was the site of a more spontaneous celebration, as people waved flags and beat drums with the announcement.

"This is a historic moment. It shows that China is becoming stronger," said Leo Zhou, a Beijing high school student.

Chinese dissidents, Tibetan activists and human rights watchdogs were less enthusiastic.

The Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, said awarding China the Games will give "the stamp of international approval for Beijing's human rights abuses."

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said the onus is now on the IOC to ensure that Beijing proves itself worthy of the Olympics.

"The IOC didn't even try to get guarantees on human rights," said Sidney Jones, the organization's Asia director. "If abuses take place as preparations for the Games proceed, it won't be just the Chinese authorities who will look bad -- the IOC and corporate sponsors will be complicit."

The government of Taiwan, which has been in diplomatic dtente with China over its nationalistic aspirations, used the opportunity to call on China to embrace the Olympic spirit of peace and "renounce the use of force in the Taiwan Strait."

Canadian IOC member Paul Henderson, who ran Toronto's unsuccessful bid for the 1996 Olympics, said the presentations and the quality of Toronto's bid were of little importance.

"I think they wanted all along to give it to Beijing," Henderson told CBC. "I think that was certainly in the cards. What had to happen was Beijing needed to make a mistake and a major mistake. If they made a major mistakes, then Toronto had a chance, and as we went down the road, Beijing didn't make any mistakes."

The Chinese spent lavishly with a number of multinational corporations helping to underwrite the bid's estimated pricetag of $40 million US, while a battery of New York public relations consultants helped Beijing officials avoid any gaffes and deflect concerns over China's human rights record.

TO-Bid CEO John Bitove said he knew his bid was in trouble after seeing the Beijing presentation, and Canadian IOC presidential candidate Dick Pound echoed the sentiments.

"I had a little bit of a sinking feeling when I saw it, too," said Pound.

For months, Pound has cautioned Toronto's boosters in Canada that the Games were probably Beijing's to lose.

"There was recognition that they had a tough loss and they came back and were rewarded for it," Pound said. "In the Olympic context, China is a perfectly good citizen."

Henderson went further, stating that he believed Samaranch was pulling strings behind the scenes to ensure that Beijing won the Games.

Henderson, who also caused a stir when he threw what he called a "good hockey elbow" at a passing reporter just before being interviewed on CBC Television, said the Lastman fracas had little bearing on the vote.

"People had made their minds up and the Lastman issue only gave them a reason to vote for China and not for Toronto," Henderson said. "I don't think it really changed any votes, it just solidified votes."

"They wanted to give Beijing a turn to finally get the Olympic Games and we knew that and what we were up against," said Bitove, who sounded resigned to the result despite talking about a Beijing victory on Thursday night.

"I have always understood that China was the world's largest country, has not had the Olympic Games, and it was an emotional question," Bitove told CBC. "They did a great presentation. The way they talked about 400 million youth who can be connected to the world, and I understood that.

"I only hope that some day that our youth in Toronto can have the same chance."

Already there's talk that that chance could come as early as the 2012 Olympics.

"It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when," vowed Toronto bid member Bruce Kidd, a former Olympic long-distance runner, when asked by reporters whether Toronto would ever stage the Games. "At some point, and I hope it's in my lifetime, we will have the Olympic Games here in Toronto.

"I can assure you of that."

In the meantime, Toronto's defeat may be a boost for the Vancouver-Whistler bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics, and Bitove said it was too early to speculate on whether there would be a Toronto bid for 2012.

However, he did say, "I think that the Olympic waterfront is something magical and it would be great to give it to the world and athletes in Toronto and in Canada some day."