Asian Games Underwhelm

The Asian Games opened in spectacular fashion Nov. 12 in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, highlighted by a flotilla of 45 boats ferrying thousands of athletes down the Pearl River to the main stadium on Haixinsha Island. The opening ceremony featured some 6,000 performers.

The ceremony received a huge amount of attention by the Chinese media, though one aspect that wasn’t publicized was how residents who lived within a one-kilometer radius of the event were evacuated from their homes for security reasons.

Various Western news services have reported that local police spent about 2 billion yuan ($302 million) on security for the Games. Some of that money was spent temporarily relocating Guangzhou residents whose homes were close enough to the venue to see the opening ceremony.

One local newspaper said the displaced would be put up temporarily in luxury hotels, and those who wanted to watch the opening ceremony would be able to do so in large plazas with TV monitors. In addition, all subway stations in downtown Guangzhou were closed the day before the opening ceremony.

Despite the publicity, most events over the following weekend were poorly attended. Cricket matches and wushu competitions were held to nearly empty stadiums and arenas. Only the swimming and gymnastics events had sizeable crowds.

Some blamed the lack of interest in the heavy security, which may have intimidated people from going into Guangzhou during the Games, but the main problem seems to be that thousands of tickets were given away to corporate sponsors, the majority of which weren’t used.

Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, president of the Olympic Council of Asia, said the organizers would put 400,000 more tickets on sale. Technically, all the events had been “sold out” before the Games started, which resulted in people interested in buying tickets at the venues being turned away at the door even though there were plenty of empty seats inside.