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Tale of 2 cities

Beijing bidders promise gains in human rights

MOSCOW — China will improve its human rights record as a result of hosting the 2008 Summer Games, leaders of Beijing's winning bid promised Friday.

"We will continue to open ourselves wider to the outside world and carry out more reforms," China's sports minister, Yuan Weimen, told reporters here through a translator shortly after the International Olympic Committee's historic vote to give Beijing the Games. "There will also be corresponding progress in the human rights cause in China," he said. "There will be even faster social progress in our country."

Indeed, many observers attending IOC sessions in Moscow and around the world see the decision as a potentially major turning point. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, an honorary IOC member, for one, called it "a very important step in the evolution of China's relationship with the world."

In the second round of balloting, Beijing won 56 of the 105 votes cast for candidate cities by the IOC in a secret ballot. The Chinese capital's nearest competitor was Toronto, which only managed to collect 22 votes. Paris received 18 and Istanbul, nine. Osaka, Japan, was eliminated in the first round of balloting after getting just six votes. Under the IOC rules, that's what happens to the lowest vote-getter in each round. Voting continues until one city receives a majority of the votes cast.

Beijing had been widely favored to win, the only real hurdle stemming from China's controversial human rights record — something the majority of the IOC members chose to look beyond.

"There was a feeling it was China's time," said Dick Pound, an IOC member from Canada who supported Toronto's bid. Members liked hearing that they could help accelerate China's progress.

"Maybe it's easier for them to make the changes in response to commitments they make and we accept in an Olympic context than because the United States told them to do it," Pound said.

The U.S. Congress has been divided on the issue of whether to condemn Beijing's bid, and the Bush administration remained neutral. Other organizations, including the European Parliament, did formally oppose the Chinese candidacy.

Guobin Li, deputy secretary general of the Beijing bid, said the U.S. government may have been thinking about the economic issues. With 1.3 billion people, China's is the word's largest consumer market.

"There are so many big companies that show interest in China," Li said. "We can use the U.S. money to promote our social interests, for services to the people" to improve their quality of life.

IOC Director General Francois Carrard said the IOC is "totally aware there is one issue on the table and that issue is human rights. It is not up to the IOC to interfere in these issues, but we are taking a bet that seven years from now, we sincerely and deeply hope we see many changes."

Anita DeFrantz, an IOC vice president from the United States, sounded convinced that the Olympics would change Beijing just as hosting the 1980 Summer Games changed Moscow.

"Here we stand 21 years after the Games I couldn't compete in," DeFrantz said, referring the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Games, which she unsuccessfully fought as a member of the U.S. Olympic team. "That event changed this place."

Another American member of the IOC, Bob Ctvrtlik, said the human rights issue is not a consideration for the vast majority of athletes. "Probably less than 1 percent of the athletes would even have an opinion on that," Ctvrtlik said. "They're focused on their sport. And if they're not, they're probably not an Olympic athlete."

Ctvrtlik said the IOC's choice boosted the U.S. chances of landing the 2012 Summer Games. Eight cities are bidding for the U.S. Olympic Committee nomination: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Tampa, Houston, Dallas and the Washington-Baltimore area.

"I bet that maybe not as big a cheer as you heard from the Chinese people, but there was probably a little cheer in the United States, that they might get a chance in 2012," he said. Had Toronto won, there was virtually no possibility of the Olympics returning to North America so soon.

Jean-Claude Killy, an IOC member from France who supported the Paris bid, said there was no way to beat Beijing. "You can't fight it," Killy said. "It's a monster. We didn't know it was that big — 1.3 billion people is too much for the French."

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