Ahead of the Olympic Games, Excitement and Fear in Beijing

Ahead of the Olympic Games, Excitement and Fear in Beijing

BEIJING -- In Athens, four years ago this week, Greek officials were still scurrying to put the final touches on sporting venues and other civil infrastructure that had been constructed for the games. China's Olympic infrastructure has been ready for much longer, yet Chinese officials are still in panic mode: With just hours to go before the opening ceremony, Beijing's notorious pollution clouds refuse to budge, and Chinese Communist Party officials remain on edge about displays of political dissent.

In Athens, where I covered the event for the BBC, at the conclusion of two stimulating weeks of competition, the after-hours bar-room consensus among British journalists was that the Greek games been a great success, but that covering Beijing in 2008 would be a completely different affair: due to Chinese authoritarianism as well as the yawning culture and language gap.

In a bid to pre-empt protests by dissident groups or Tibetan nationalists, Chinese officials have already banned all flags other than those of countries participating in the Olympics, and banners larger than two square meters. Chinese officials are said to be leaning on NBC, the American channel with exclusive broadcasting rights, to refrain from transmitting to the world images of any in-stadium protests that happen to be captured by the network's cameras.

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