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The Hidden Cost Behind China's Olympic Gold

July 27, 2008

By Hua Ming
The Epoch Times
July 24, 2008


As the Beijing Olympics approaches, Chinese people hope that their
country will out do the U.S. in gold medals. According to recent
reports, China is gradually becoming the top sports country in the
world -- China is to surpass the U.S. in gold medal totals to be the
top gold medal winner in the world.

At the Athens Olympics four years ago, the Chinese Olympics
Delegation won 32 gold, 17 silver and 14 bronze medals; it was only
second to US, which had won 35 gold metals. For the forthcoming
Beijing Olympics, where expectations see China winning the majority
of all medal totals, the Chinese Olympic Delegation will send nearly
600 athletes, far exceeding 407, the number of athletes sent to Athens.

While these statistics may be exciting for the Chinese people, many
may not have considered how a country that is ranked around 100th in
the world for GDP per person can win over the U.S. -- ranking in the
top 10 countries for GDP -- to become the top sports nation in gold
metal totals. Especially for a country that still has more than 200
million living below the poverty line, some believe China's
anticipated high medal ranking represents a poor allocation of resources.

How Much for a Gold Medal?

Prior to Athens Olympic Games, an Internet article in China became
extremely popular. In "The Trap of Olympic Gold Medal," the author
exhibited astounding numbers. After the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games,
the budget for the China Sports Bureau raised from three billion yuan
($USD 439 million) to five billion yuan ($732 million) per year.
During the four years of preparation for the Athens Olympics, China
spent 20 billion yuan ($3 billion), but the expense earned China 32
gold medals, making the cost for each gold medal nearly 700 million
yuan ($102 million). Due to this high price for Olympic glory, China'
gold medals have been called "The most expensive gold medals in the world."

To put this in perspective, the article points out that the 700
million yuan used to win one Olympic gold medal can build 3500
elementary schools, rescuing 350,000 children from poverty due to
lack of education.

Such a contrast is shocking. In a country where the budget for
education, science, research and social security is extremely tight,
many believe the 700 million yuan to win one gold medal could be
better spent. Like an exploding bomb, "The Trap of Olympic Gold
Medal"  received an enormous response from across Chinese society. Of
course while gold medals are something people look forward to, some
are beginning to think that the cost is too high.

Funded by a Billion Taxpayers

Although the General Administration of Sports of China never
publicized all the numbers invested in preparation of Olympic Games,
Bao Mingxiao, Head of Center for Sports and Social Science Research
under the Administration estimated that the country invests
approximately four to five million yuan ($590,000–$730,000) on one
Olympic athlete. Assuming there are 400 athletes in China's Olympic
Delegation, the total cost is between 1.6 to 2.0 billion yuan ($234
million to $292 million). Convert the investment for each gold medal
based on the 32 won in the last Olympics, and the cost for one gold
medal is 500-600 million yuan ($73 million to $87 million).

Chinese track star Liu Xiang won a 110-meter hurdle at the Athens
Olympics. Before this, his annual expense was about three million
yuan, which included an environmentally-friendly running course for
over a million yuan and several hundred thousand yuan for a new set
of hurdles. The amount China spent on Liu Xiang could equal several
hundreds even thousands of Elementary Schools of Hope—charity schools
for kids in poor areas of China.

Wu Shouzhang, vice chairman of China's Olympic Committee commented
that the total cost for this endeavor is very difficult to calculate.
He adds that, besides Liu, there are also medical doctors,
scientists, nutritionists, field workers, document workers, as well
as early investments made by Shanghai, Liu's home city.

According to the "Report on China's Olympic Gold Medal" issued by the
China Branding Research Institute, the commercial value for Liu
Xiang's gold metal was worth 461 million yuan ($67.5 million) last year.

Weighing Priorities: Gold Medals or People's Livelihood?

How do people feel about a country with a per capita GDP ranked more
than 100 in the world striving to become a sports superpower? "If we
become number one in the world, how can we speak of our pride?"
lamented one Internet user. "Can we say to the people, whose basic
freedoms cannot even be guaranteed, that we are number one in the
world? Can we say to the tens of thousands of migrant workers, who
have to work over ten hours a day all year round, yet cannot even
have their salary guaranteed, that we are number one in the world?"

This Internet user believes that a huge number of gold medals
represent "a diseased inverted pyramid type of sport system. It has
nothing to do with the sporting achievements enjoyed by common
people. Primary and junior high schools at basic level cannot even
provide students any fields for athletics. Sporting facilities for
the masses are almost nonexistent in the countryside."

Renowned Taiwanese writer Lung Ying-tai questioned how China gained
its 32 gold medals. She found that the country used a huge amount of
taxpayer money to set up sport schools at various levels. In
comparison, with other sports superpowers such as the U.S., Germany,
and Japan, the majority of their achievements are display of the
results from across the entire population.

China's situation is just the reverse. There are many sports venues,
but they are not open to general public. Rather they are only
reserved for a few specific people. China has an amazing sports
budget, but it doesn't go to national athletic programs. Instead it
is used to train a few medal winning stars. Western countries use
competitions to encourage athletic excellence for all, and to improve
citizens' health. In China, competitions are for publicizing Chinese
regime's prestige to the outside world. They seem to have little
interest in promoting the health of its citizens.

So does the Chinese regime believe that gold medals are more
important or people's livelihood?  "We've been asking this question
for some time," say human rights activists, "and the consideration
has those who see the truth demanding: 'Human Rights before Olympics'!"

Olympic Projects: A Source for Corruption

Moreover, many Chinese officials spent large portion of public funds
to inspect abroad in the name of the Olympics. The audit storm in
2004 exposed the scandal of General Administration of Sports of China
appropriating Olympic special funds to build houses. Hence some
Internet users exclaimed, "Olympics, Olympics, how many corruptions
are undertaken in your name!"

According to an Associated Press report, Beijing Vice-mayor Liu
Zhihua -- who oversaw the Olympic construction projects costing 280
billion yuan ($US 41 billion) -- was under investigation for
corruption. He was dismissed in June 2006.

Observers point out that Liu had an opportunity to gain a large
amount of ill-gotten gains just before and right after Olympic
construction began. The bidding process alone could make him very rich.

China's Olympic project is a major endeavor overseen by the Chinese
regime. This authoritarian regime does not allow independent
judiciary or media supervision, so power monopolization and
behind-the-scenes deals are common. Without freedom of the press and
media supervision, the oversight is Chinese communist's own
anti-corruption system.  In such a situation, embezzlement is common.
In reality, no one can know just how much Chinese taxpayers have paid
for a single gold medal. Yet one thing is certain: while these gold
medals give prosperity to corrupt officials and a few elite athletes,
the Chinese people who paid for them will not benefit from it at all.
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