11/09/2004, 00.00
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Between numbers and obstacles, the long march towards the Olympic Games goes on

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Beijing Olympic Games are coming into being under the sign of the number 8, a number considered lucky in Chinese tradition. The opening ceremony will start at 8 o'clock of the eight day of the eighth month. The closing ceremony will take place on August 24, which is three times eight in the eighth month.

Despite China's embrace of modernism and modernity, superstition and numerology are still an integral part of its culture. Tradition remains intrinsic to preparing the event under auspicious terms.

Numerology is not however the only factor shaping the calendar of competitions; the weather and other sports events have gone into the making of the Olympic schedule.

The Games were supposed to start on July 25, but were postponed by two weeks because of the hot Chinese summer. Organisers wanted a later date, but did not reckon that late August is the time of the US Tennis Open—one of the four main tournaments in the Grand Slam—and the beginning of baseball's regular season in North America.

Problems do not end there. According to Beijing's mayor Wang Qishan, "more than three million overseas visitors, including 20,000 athletes, coaches and 30,000 journalists," are expected in the capital for the Games. This number will increase traffic and make the capital more chaotic than usual. None the less, Mr Wang said he was more concerned about the behaviour of Beijing citizens than traffic problems. He was probably referring to a lantern festival stampede in Miyun County earlier this year and spectators' indifference to amateur runners who collapsed during the recent Beijing International Marathon. Two runners died.

Last but not least, many installations and building are going up despite the central government's plea for "frugality". Back in August, Premier Wen Jiabao during a State Council said that "the people comes first" and that everyone should approach the Olympic Games with frugality in mind.

As things stand now, the Games' operational budget is US$ 1.8 billion and covers the transport and accommodation of athletes, the running of the venues and broadcasting. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will pay 60 per cent whilst the rest came from sponsorship and ticket sales by local organisers. (DS)

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