MOSCOW -- By awarding the 2008 Games to Beijing, the IOC sent a resounding message to the rest of the world: The Olympics should be about opening doors, not closing them.
The International Olympic Committee put aside human rights concerns in making their historic decision, hoping to foster further change in the world's most populous country.
In a gesture that has global, political and economic repercussions, China won the games for the first time in a landslide vote over Toronto, Paris, Istanbul, Turkey, and Osaka, Japan.
"Possibly today this opens a new era for China," IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch said after opening a blue envelope and declaring Beijing the winner.
The Chinese capital, which lost by two votes to Sydney for the 2000 Olympics, had been the front-runner all along but the margin of victory was still surprising. It prevailed on the second round of a secret ballot by receiving 56 votes, three more than the required majority.
Toronto, which had insisted it was neck and neck with Beijing, got only 22 votes in the final round, with Paris getting 18 and Istanbul nine. Osaka was eliminated in the first round with six votes.
In the first round, Beijing got 44 votes, Toronto 20, Istanbul 17 and Paris 15. Beijing picked up votes from Istanbul and Osaka to swing the election in the next round.
The announcement set off an official celebration of fireworks, songs and flag-waving by thousands of people in Beijing's Millennium Square. Traditional lion dancers joined a group of ballerinas as spotlights and green lasers swept the sky.
"Comrades! 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," President Jiang Zemin shouted to the crowd.
"This is a very important step in the evolution of China's relationship with the world," said former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who helped open relations between Beijing and Washington in the 1970s. "It will have a positive impact."
The reaction from members of Congress and human rights activists was vastly different.
"It truly boggles the mind," said Rep. Tom Lantos, the House International Relations Committee's top Democrat, whose resolution urging the IOC not to choose Beijing was blocked by Republican leaders. "This decision will allow the Chinese police state to bask in the reflected glory of the Olympic Games despite having one of the most abominable human rights records in the world."
In Dharmsala, India, Tibetan activists said they would push for an international boycott of the games. China has ruled Tibet since 1950.
"We are totally aware at the IOC there is one issue at the table, and that is human rights," IOC director general Francois Carrard said in an unusual public statement on the matter. "Human rights is a very serious issue in the entire world. ...
"It is not up to the IOC to interfere in this issue. But we are taking the bet that seven years from now, we sincerely and dearly hope we will see many changes" in China.
Senior Canadian IOC member Dick Pound said taking the games to Beijing was a gamble with a huge payoff.
"If you take Toronto, it has virtually no risk and a high reward," he said. "This has a higher risk, but potentially a much higher reward."
Olympic historian John McAloon said giving the games to China marked a watershed.
"In some ways, the Olympic movement might have been reborn in this vote," he said. "They gave political and historical significance to what's best for the games instead of what's best for the sports industry.
"Beijing got the games not in spite of, but because of, the human rights issue."
Chinese leaders and IOC officials repeated their view that the Olympics will accelerate the reform process.
"On the human rights question we have achieved a tremendous progress," said 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."
Olympic officials said the games could have the same effect on China as the 1988 Olympics did in helping South Korea transform from military dictatorship to democracy.
Beijing also benefited from a strong sympathy factor. IOC members felt China deserved the games after the narrow defeat in 1993.
"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."
Beijing shored up its support in a 45-minute presentation to the IOC general assembly, dealing with the human rights issue head-on and emphasizing the huge impact the games would have on China and the world.
"When I saw that presentation, I turned to my wife and said, 'My God, that was powerful,"' Toronto bid chief John Bitove said. "It was 10 out of 10."
Toronto, which portrayed itself as a "bid of certainty" driven by athletes, was hurt by the remarks of its mayor, Mel Lastman. He told a reporter recently that he feared attending an Olympic meeting in Africa because of visions of "myself in a pot of boiling water with all these natives dancing around me."
The issue was raised during Toronto's presentation Friday, with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien apologizing for the mayor's remarks.
"Given the margin of the vote, I don't think it affected the result," Pound said. "It would be convenient to look for a scapegoat. But I don't think that would be fair."
Paul Henderson, a Canadian IOC member who led Toronto's unsuccessful bid for the 1996 Games, said Beijing's political might made the difference.
"The power of the IOC wanted Beijing - now they have to live with it," he said.
The result was humiliating for Paris, which suffered from sympathy votes going to Turkey. Also, members were reluctant to hold the Olympics in Europe for a third straight time since the 2004 Summer Games will be in Athens and the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy.
"It seems to me that 1.3 billion inhabitants was definitely more favorable to the IOC than our bid," French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said.
Beijing's victory could have a big influence on Monday's election of a successor to Samaranch, who is stepping down after 21 years as IOC president.
The result won't help South Korea's Kim Un-yong - considered one of the top two contenders - because IOC members could be reluctant to give both prizes to Asia.
The Beijing win would appear to favor Belgium's Jacques Rogge, who has solid support in Europe. Pound is the other main contender, with Anita DeFrantz of the United States and Pal Schmitt of Hungary as outsiders.
© 2017. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us