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Olympics 2008: Tips for the Beijing Olympics

IU experts comment on the emerging issues of the Beijing Olympics

April 11, 2008

The political turmoil surrounding the Beijing Olympics undermines the founding principles of the Games, says Phil Henson, professor in Indiana University's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Henson served as a competition director for the 1996 Atlanta games and was a technical official in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. "In a perfect world, the Olympic Games should be above, and separated from any local politics or political systems. Unfortunately, governments and political groups have always attempted to use the Olympics as a forum to advance their political views, or to criticize someone else," said Henson, whose research includes the history of the Olympic Games. "2008 is shaping up to be one of the worst in this regard. Groups that have strong views about China are using this opportunity, beginning with the torch run, to direct public attention toward their views." The politics and drama surrounding the Beijing Olympics are a far cry from the athletic event it has been in the past, says Henson. "I would like to see the Olympics viewed as a 'Celebration of the Youth of the World', as they were intended. There are very few political disagreements inside the Olympic Village, among athletes. These types of conflicts occur outside the village, as a stage for other groups with an agenda with something to prove."

Henson can be reached at 812-855-6926 or

Pollution at the Olympics. Cutting down the pollution in Beijing for the Olympics is more difficult than just shutting down the factories and keeping cars off the road, according to a professor at Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Phil Stevens, an associate professor of environmental science at SPEA, studies the effects of smog and atmospheric pollutants on air quality and global climate change. The poor air quality in Beijing is a major consideration for athletes competing in the Olympics, and despite China's reassurances of combating the air pollution, all the talk about a "quick fix" by shutting down emissions may just be hype. "They're talking about drastic measures to try to improve the air quality quickly, which means they're talking about driving restrictions in the city." However, much of the pollution may come from other industrialized areas outside of the city. "It may work," Stevens stated. "They've done some tests where they see emissions go down quickly when they've severely restricted traffic, but depending on how the wind blows, it may not help."

Stevens can be reached at 812-855-0732 or

Focus on China -- the good and the bad. With the spotlight on Beijing for the 2008 Olympics, it's a chance to look at both the tremendous improvements and unresolved problems facing China, says Scott Kennedy, director of the Research Center for Chinese Politics & Business and a scholar of China's political economy. "Some people have talked about boycotting the Olympics, but the Games are a great opportunity to shine a big light on both China's successes and failures of the past quarter century," said Kennedy. He said people need to see that there has been a tremendous amount of improvement, rather than focusing on the negative. "The political context of the Olympics is going to raise serious issues domestically, and in terms of international relations," said Kennedy, an associate professor in IU's East Asian languages and cultures and political science departments. The Research Center plans to offer a seminar on China for U.S. reporters traveling to Beijing for the Olympics. Topics will include the role of media in China, traveling in Beijing, trends in China's politics and economy, and suggestions for articles.

Kennedy can be reached at 812-856-0105 or