Changing China

Giant on the move

Why can’t we have the Summer Games in the autumn?

August 11, 2008

The sun in BeijingBeijing weather was one of the biggest stories in the run-up to the Games, and rightly so judging by the struggles of the cyclists in the men’s road race on Saturday. More than a third of contestants dropped out of the race, including one of the favourites Stefan Schumacher, who complained of a “very, very strong headache” he blamed on the pollution.

It got me wondering — why are the Games being held in August, just about the muggiest and smoggiest time of the year in the Chinese capital? What is wrong with September, or April come to that? It would not only have been cooler, but skies in Beijing are clearer too.

And it is not just about China. Marathon runners struggled and staggered with the effects of heat and pollution in Los Angeles in 1984, and there have problems with heat and air quality in most of the Summer Olympics ever since.

Looking at the history books, holding the Summer Games in the Spring or the Autumn is not such a heretical thought.

The first Games of the modern era were held in Athens in April 1896, and Tokyo and Mexico City both hosted the Summer Olympics in October, in 1964 and 1968 respectively.

Although the Chinese ended up choosing an auspicious date – the eighth day of the eight month of the eighth year — organisers admit they would have preferred to delay things for a month or so.

Ah, but it is not that simple, Reuters Olympic experts explained to me. Broadcasters really got their hooks into the Games after Mexico, and prefer dates in July or August to fill a hole in scheduling in the northern hemisphere’s summer.

But there are sporting reasons too. Any later and football clubs would be even more unwilling to release their best players — September would almost certainly have meant no Ronaldinho, no Messi.

There are other sporting events to consider too and other stars to attract, including some big names from the NBA or the tennis circuit.

But in the end, does it all just come down to money?

Tennis, football and basketball might be fun to have here (and in any case the NBA does not start until late October) but the Olympics is surely more about the other stuff — track and field, swimming, gymnastics and so on.

Doha did not make the cut in the race for 2016 partly, insiders say, because it proposed holding the Games in October.

So are we really putting up with all this muggy air just to get a few more stars at the Games and so broadcasters can make more money?

Amid all the hysteria about Chinese pollution spoiling the spectacle, it is at least worth bearing in mind what has brought us here in August in the first place.

PHOTO: The sun is seen through haze near the ‘Bird’s Nest’, ahead of Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, August 4, 2008. REUTERS/Joe Chan   


I would rather believe it is the hot temperature than pollution that caused the headache and discomforts for some sports.


There’s no conflict with tennis, September would actually be better for them because it’d be right after the US Open which is their last slam of the year. In fact it’s better. The NBA doesn’t even start their season until November. It can’t just be because of 1 or 2 soccer stars. I had read in other places including the Financial Times that the main reason was because NBC did not want the Games in September to conflict with their NFL schedule and particularly this year, with the Democratic and Republican conventions. So, we have NBC and the IOC to thank for putting the athletes through this miserable weather.

Posted by AB | Report as abusive

This comment is really about the Bird’s Nest Stadium. The innovative design of this structure and the others seen in Beijing is one of the subjects of a major exhibition coming to the U.S. called China Design Now. It opens in Cincinnati this October.

Hopefully with all this attention on Beijing, people will find time to better understand the explosive emergence of all the creative fields – graphic design, architecture, photography, fashion, and film.

Posted by PJT | Report as abusive

Well… honestly, April/May might be a better choice. If one knows the weather in China at all, one would know that the Chinese summer lingers all the way into September and sometimes early October, with September frequently registering some of the hottest days in a year…

Posted by Rui | Report as abusive

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