|Thousands of people watched a rehearsal of a dramatic fireworks display [Reuters]|
Jacques Rogge, the International Olympics president, has predicted that the “magic of the games” will overshadow the lingering worries over media freedom, human rights, pollution and politics when the Olympic Games get under way.
Rogge’s remarks on Saturday came as Beijing held a dress rehearsal for Friday’s opening ceremony, which will take place at the Bird’s Nest National Stadium.
The IOC has come under fire for failing to get China to live up to promises to improve its human rights record, clean up Beijing’s pollution problems and provide unfettered internet access to the media.
But Rogge compared the situation to the Athens Olympics four years ago, when there were last-minute concerns over whether the venues would be ready on time.
“It’s a totally different ball game,” he said at a news conference. “Today we have absolutely no concerns about the organisation. No regrets. Come the 9th of August [the opening day of competition], the magic of the games and the flawless organisation will take over.”
However, Rogge refused to commit to pressing Beijing officials to allow international media full access to the internet as many sites remained blocked to journalists.
“I’m not going to make an apology for something which the IOC is not responsible for. We are not running the internet in China, it’s the Chinese authorities that are running the internet. Let me be very clear, the IOC is in favour of the broadest availability of internet for you, the media people, that is the bottom line,” he said.
“Secondly, there has been no deal whatsoever at any time between the IOC leadership at different levels and the organisers to say ‘we agree with your procedure and we agree with your pattern’,” he said.
However, the IOC president said that athletes would be free to express their opinions on China’s policies, human rights, Tibet or any other issues, as long as they do so away from the Olympic village.
“If we allow political propaganda, it’s the end of the harmony of the Olympic village, and the end of the harmony of the games,” Rogge said.
Rogge also dismissed suggestions that many athletes will miss Friday’s opening ceremony because they are staying away from Beijing until the last moment to avoid the air pollution. He said he expects 7,000 to 9,000 athletes to march in the ceremony.
Thousands of people from across the country gathered for the rehearsal of the opening ceremony and the huge fireworks display at the nearby Tiananmen Square.
Crowds gasped and cheered at a three minute display that featured perfectly circular explosions in the colours of the five Olympic rings, as well as dramatic fountains of multicoloured fire.
“The bus I took was very crowded. Many people come here to watch the fireworks. We are so excited. I came a long way here and maybe I can only watch the fireworks for just a couple of minutes. But I still feel it worthwhile and I am very happy,” 65-year-old Ms Wang said.
About 10,000 performers will take part in the three-hour opening ceremony and which could reach a global audience of more than four billion people.
Chinese workers involved in the Olympic project and some of their families and friends were given tickets for the rehearsal, filling the 90,000-seat national stadium to near capacity.
Outside the stadium, many more people took up positions where they could get a glimpse the practice, or the second fireworks display of the day.
“The Olympics is a once-in-a-life-time event. I think I will remember it for my whole life,” Mr Chen said as he watched the display.