November 11 marked “1000 days to go” before the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games, which the Beijing Olympic committee celebrated with a gala ceremony and presentation in the capital city highlighted by the unveiling of the official Beijing Games mascots, the Five Friendlies.
“Designed to express the playful qualities of five little children who form an intimate circle of friends,” they are Beibei the fish, Jingjing the panda, Huanhuan the Olympic flame, Yingying the Tibetan antelope, and Nini the swallow. The first syllables from their two-syllable names form a line that reads “Beijing Huanying Ni,” or in English – “Welcome to Beijing.” The mascot’s colors were chosen to match those of the Olympic rings.
The same day, the IOC’s Coordination Commission confirmed its satisfaction with the state of preparations for the Games, with particular emphasis on venue readiness, conditions for the athletes, and sports legacy beyond the
However, an issue of possible concern not mentioned by IOC or Beijing officials was the announcement by the Chinese government, also last week, of two new outbreaks of avian flu in northeastern China, bringing their reported outbreaks to six in just the last month.
The Chinese premier warned that the disease is not under control. There have not been any confirmed crossover human cases in China, the incidence of which has caused the death of at least 63 people in other Asian countries. However, China has asked the World Health Organization to test three possible cases of bird flu in humans, including one involving the death of a 12-year-old girl last month.
China has pledged to be more open about reporting on avian flu cases after receiving widespread criticism regarding its handling of a severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003. As the result of the SARS outbreak, the 2003 Women’s Soccer World Cup was relocated from China to the United States. The World Cup is again scheduled to be held in several locations in China in 2007, the year before the Olympics.
If the bird flu virus does spread to the human population in China by then, the world sporting community will have to face the issue again. With the economics and prestige of the Olympics riding on the outcome, and the time and effort required to prepare for an event of such magnitude, the World Cup decision could also portend the actual location of the 2008 Olympics.