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China tightens belt on sporting events

China slashes National Games budget by 78 per cent

Image Credit: REUTERS
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang meets South Korean President Park Geun-Hye at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing June 28, 2013.
Gulf News

Beijing: Sporting powerhouse China has slashed the budget for its National Games by 78 per cent amid dramatically slowing economic growth and a government campaign to rein in public spending.

Spending on the 12th games, to be held August 31-September 12 in the northeastern province of Liaoning, will be kept to a maximum of 800 million yuan ($130 million), the deputy director of the organising committee, He Min, was quoted as saying by state media on Thursday. That’s down from the original figure of 3.6 billion yuan ($590 million).

“We hope to create a new manner of organising big events in a thrifty way,” He was quoted as saying at a news conference Wednesday.

Held every four years, the National Games are China’s premier sporting event and a crucial testing ground for future Olympic champions. With events broadcast nationwide and national leaders in attendance, host cities usually compete to outspend each other on elaborate ceremonies and glitzy venues.

Liaoning’s decision to brag about its cost-cutting, therefore, represents a sharp shift in tone among officialdom, reflecting stark new economic realities.

The ruling Communist Party’s economic growth target this year is 7.5 per cent, down by almost half from 2007’s sizzling pace of 14.2 per cent. Some analysts have suggested growth might sink below 7 per cent in coming months —- perilously low by Chinese standards.

Meanwhile, debts among local governments are soaring, while China’s politically sensitive global trade surplus contracted by 12.4 per cent in June compared with a year earlier to $27.1 billion. Growth in exports to the United States, China’s biggest foreign market, fell to 1.8 per cent from May’s 3.5 per cent.

Even before those figures appeared, the government of President Xi Jinping had put the brakes on generous lending to local governments that often ends up wasted on vanity projects. Xi himself has demanded officials eliminate lavish banquets and other wasteful practices and trade in their foreign luxury automobiles for local brands.

In his comments, He said savings would come both from reducing the scale of the games and cutting back on ceremony.

The number of venues was cut from 129 to 117, with only 10 being newly constructed, while teams competing will fall from 46 to 38, eliminating about 1,500 competitors, He said. The last games, in 2009, featured 10,991 athletes.

The number of sports will also be reduced by two to 31, He said. It wasn’t clear which sports were being eliminated, and calls to the organizing committee rang unanswered on Thursday.

Spending on the opening and closing ceremonies is being cut 90 per cent to just 9 million yuan ($1.4 million), He said. That will be achieved in part by holding the Aug. 31 opening ceremony during daylight hours, allowing big savings on lighting and fireworks displays, he said.

Conferences, exhibitions, and non-sports related ceremonies and awards are also being canceled, He said, while unnecessary souvenirs and banquets were given the heave-ho and the number of invited foreign guests cut by half.