Empty nest

Finding alternative uses for Beijing’s Olympic stadia

Empty nest

Wrong track: the Bird's Nest stadium has struggled to find a purpose after the Olympics

The Olympic curse is back. In the months leading up to the Beijing spectacular last year, China was swept with text messages claiming that the official Olympic mascots – the Fuwa, or ‘good luck dolls’ – were bringing misfortune on the nation.

Each of the animal dolls was said to be linked to a disaster suffered in the run up to the Games; the panda to the Sichuan earthquake, the Tibetan antelope to the Olympic torch protests, the swallow to a deadly train crash (in a city known for swallow-like birds) and the fish to the worst floods for 50 years. The “curse of the Fuwa” fascinated China’s netizens.

Post-Olympics and talk of a jinxed Olympics is a little more prosaic. Beijing spent $42 billion on the 29th Olympiad, with the largest chunk going into building state of the art facilities to host the events. The flak is now flying for how they are being managed in the games’ aftermath.

That goes especially for the iconic Bird’s Nest stadium and Water Cube aquatic centre. Some visitors have complained that the Rmb50 entry fee is too high, others that there has not been much to see at the venues once they have paid to get in. A recent primary school athletics event did not exactly set the pulses racing, for instance. Grown-up football team, Beijing Guoan also refuses to play at the Bird’s Nest, claiming that they need 50,000 paying spectators just to break even.

Citic Group, the stadium operator, is looking at revenue raising ideas. One is to auction off naming rights for the Olympic venues, although initial excitement about potential sponsors seems to have receded. The Jinghua Times thinks more creative solutions are in the pipeline. The Water Cube hosted a concert that ran from October to February 9, and lured 100,000. This summer it will reopen as an indoor water park (yes, with beach included).

Not to be outdone, the Xinhua News Agency reported this week that the Bird’s Nest has another renovation plan. This will see a “ring-shaped restaurant” added to the third floor of the stadium (presumably selling Bird’s Nest Soup) and a 50,000 square metre theme park to the stadium’s northeast edge.

This would be a step up from existing attractions. WiC made its own trip to the Bird’s Nest shortly before Christmas and can report that visitors were greeted by a slightly surreal display of mannequins dressed either in ethnic costume or as athletes and astronauts. Stranger still, all were wearing stretched women’s tights over their heads, in the manner of an aspiring bank robber.

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