POSTED: August 7th 2009

Mourinho reopens Bird's Nest . . . the Special One meets a White Elephant

Jose Mourinho: league champion in three countries /
Jose Mourinho: league champion in three countries /

KEIR RADNEDGE / Sports Features Communications

LONDON/BEIJING: One year ago the outstanding Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing was the focus of world sport as main stadium for the soon-to-start 2008 Olympic Games; one year later it is an outstanding example of that most feared of species, the white elephant.

None of the proposed schemes for putting the Bird’s Nest to profitable – or even regular – use have been carried through. Thus the stadium in which Usain Bolt exploded to glory will be emerging from mothballs for sport just about the first time Saturday when, improbably, Internazionale face Lazio in the Italian Supercup.

The annual clash between the champions and cup-winners from the last Italian season – coach Jose Mourinho (self-styled Special One), new star signing Samuel Eto’o and Co - is a curtain-raiser to the new Serie A season which begins at the end of the month. This is not the first time that television and sponsor interest has taken the game abroad; it was even staged once in Libya.

To assist the cause domestically, this has been designated as National Fitness Day. The day was labelled originally last January but details have only just been rushed out to put flesh on the bones of the ideas. A National Fitness Carnival is being hosted this weekend at the National Olympic Sports Centre with free access to the centre and 32 sports and fitness activities.

'Happy grasslands'

Festivities kicked off with a tai chi performance involving 34,000 people. Cities and municipalities across China are hosting their own events; even Inner Mongolia stages one which has been decorously entitled: "Happy grasslands: recreation activities across the region."

Henan province is hosting a farmers basketball league, while Liaoning is involving "millions of students promoting millions of families and tens of millions of people to take part in fitness activities".

A government survey released at the end of 2008 claimed that “a record" 28.2 per cent of people spent more than 30 minutes in physical activities at least three times a week.

Comparative statistics from the pre-Olympic era are not readily available but, back in January, Sports Minister Liu Peng said: “The successful hosting of the Olympic Games raised people's attention to sports to an unprecedented level and also left a rich legacy for China."

Pop concerts

The sporting legacy of the Games as far as the Bird's Nest may appear questionable given that it has taken two Italian football teams and their commercial partners to open it up again for sport (several pop concerts have been staged there).

The problem for the Chinese authorities is that, as in many other countries, local youngsters live increasingly sedentary lives.

Many bear the pressure of being only children and thus carrying their parents' only hopes and dreams, and spending almost all their time outside school doing homework, taking extra tuition courses and otherwise cramming for the national exams which will determine their future.

On the other hand, physical activity flourishes in parts of Chinese society. High-level sports are well-funded and supported by the state: elite athletes are identified at a young age and thereafter brought up in academies with strict and exacting regimens; while parks are full of groups of elderly people dancing, singing and performing tai chi.

Now, bring on the Special One,

Keywords · China · Beijing · 2008 Olympic Games · Bird's Nest · Internazionale · Lazio · Italian Supercup · Mourinho · Eto'o · white elephant

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