The torch was lit and the curtain raised 10 years ago at the nest-shaped National Stadium in Beijing. China staged a dazzling opening of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games as tens of thousands of performers tripped the light fantastic.
The nation put its best foot forward and splurged an eye-popping US$40 billion, according to Reuters on the infrastructure, venues, security and others for the 16-day event of pomp and pageantry, a charm offensive seen by some at home and abroad as the declaration of the great revival of the Middle Kingdom.
Many argued back then that the hefty amount shelled out for the main Games and Paralympics was mere pocket change for the roaring Chinese economy.
Fast-forward to a decade later, and scruffy, tumbledown spectator stands and moldy arenas covered in overgrown weeds are sights to be found at numerous Olympic venues, once hailed as marvels of technology and construction chock-a-block full of athletes, tourists and journalists back in 2008.
Beware of mascots and carcasses lying in tatters across the grounds if you dare to set foot in these sites that look more like dumps ravaged by time.
Most of the purpose-built venues in and around the Chinese capital for various sports have been, after the initial sizzle faded out, left to decay for years, even though the Chinese president at the time, Hu Jintao, pledged a green, value-for-money event in his many instructions regarding the Games.
These sights compare very unfavorably to the fact that the 2012 London Olympics – once much ridiculed by Chinese media and netizens for “shoestring” budgets – have a legacy of reusing and repurposing almost all of the permanent venues and facilities for the continued enjoyment of the general public.
Among the few sites that have managed to retain good vibes in the post-Olympic decade in Beijing are the 2.3 billion yuan ($337 million) National Stadium and the National Aquatics Center dubbed the “Water Cube,” though the former nowadays hosts more concerts and fiestas than sporting events while the latter has been renovated to become a water park that charges pricy admission fees.
Now some are wondering if Beijing will see the creation of more white elephants and ghost towns now that the Chinese capital is on track to become the only city on the planet to have hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympics.
The 2022 Winter Games will for sure put another positive spin on China’s image, with all the fanfare and spectacles guaranteed, but are all these new, magnificent venues rapidly taking shape today doomed to sink into oblivion in yet another post-Olympics hangover?