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Easy on the Totalitarianism

Lu the cab driver says that I can call him Ronald because his girth has been aided by a diet of burgers from the ubiquitous American multinational food chain. Then his face lights up when I say that I am an Englishman in Beijing to write about the Olympics.

He has never heard of Sebastian Coe or Steve Redgrave, or even Carl Lewis. Only Beckham, and he desperately wants to watch the Olympic football. Or maybe basketball because China is enthralled by the exploits of Yao Ming, the Houston Rockets centre, who has become an international star.

Even though Beijing is consumed by the business of preparing for the 2008 Olympics, the Games are a mystery to the vast majority, as Lu demonstrated. Exposure to minority sports is almost non-existent; organisers of the World Softball Championships discovered as much last month. Few spectators turned up because few knew what softball was.

The authorities immediately went into schools with plans to teach children about the sport as part of its radical agenda of educating the nation. Authorities have also ramped up a physical education programme, mainly because of the Olympics but also in the face of an outbreak of obesity that has not only claimed Lu the cabbie.

The Olympics provide a spearhead that the authorities are exploiting. In the two years until the opening ceremony, the population of Beijing will be more prepared for an Olympic Games than almost any other in history. Some of it may be a mystery now, but Lu and the millions like him are determined to understand.

Olympic Games: Locals willing to learn, with or without Beckham, Kevin Eason, October 03 2006,The Times online

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