Voluntary service

August 20, 2012   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy

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I have great memories of the Beijing 2008 Games and in particular the way China welcomed the world with a smile. Everywhere you went you would see hundreds of members of the Chinese public, always willing to help, polite, happy, smiley. However some of them were not very well informed but I didn’t really care – they made you feel better about being lost. However, I suspect there was also a message about China’s arrival on the world stage. All the volunteers I met were aged 18-25, well educated, graduates or students and ethnically Han Chinese. There were no old people, no disabled people, no Muslims or Buddhists. This was a statement about China’s emerging middle class. At the time I expressed a desire that London could and should do better. In contrast to Beijing, London 2012 aimed to reflect the diversity of London and the wider UK in its volunteer force. The Olympic and Paralympic Games are a great opportunity to show off the rich diversity and inclusivity of our city and country. Of course, we won’t know the exact results against this target until after both Games have finished, but to the casual observer, the diversity of the …

They sold me a merry Christmas

December 17, 2010   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy

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Christmas – season of goodwill or orgy of conspicuous consumption of useless tat? As we approach Games-time the push to sell London 2012 merchandise is hotting up. You can see the offers available on the London 2012 website at   When I was at the Beijing Games in 2008, I commented on these pages about the huge appetite Chinese people had for the Games and the cheap merchandise that went with it. I tried to describe the huge retail outlets piled high with all manner of stuff carrying the Beijing 2008 logo and the hot, tired shoppers queuing outside the door to get their hands on these items. At the time I expressed a desire that London 2012 would be different. During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, I commented on the horror stories coming from China about the labour and environmental standards employed at the factories making the mascots for the event. Claims of excessive profiteering were abundant, damaging the reputation of the event. This was shortly before LOCOG gave the world Wenlock and Mandeville, the twin Olympic mascots for London 2012. I must say I was quite impressed with the way sustainability messages were weaved into …

Corinthian spirit or corporate junket?

August 22, 2008   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy


London 2012 needs £2bn of private money to stage the games. LOCOG, the organisation charged with this responsibility, is a private company chaired by Lord Coe. The government owns the shares, but LOCOG is a separate organisation from the Olympic Delivery Authority, who are using public money to build the facilities that will be used for the games and beyond. Much of this money will come from corporate sponsorship partners. I have been spending some time with sponsors in Beijing to understand their potential contribution to a sustainable London 2012. I visited Coca-Cola and GE Eco-Imagination pavilions, and had a tour of McDonald’s outlets at the various venues. The pavilions are huge, two-storey buildings the size of several football pitches, housing exhibition areas open to the public, as well as VIP areas for corporate guests. The Chinese people are keen to soak up the whole experience and there are long queues outside many of the buildings. The Coke experience is particularly inspiring for the local people, as it celebrates the stunning recent achievements of China and honours its past by showcasing each province of China individually. Whilst there is a strong environmental section in the Coke pavilion, the GE Eco-Imagination …

The smog blog

August 15, 2008   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy


The experience of Beijing compared to London is one of similarities and contrasts. The sheer scale of growth in Beijing is incredible and the city is expanding in all directions in a grid system surrounded by a series of massive concentric ring roads whereas London is really a collection of small communities that have grown together over centuries. However they do share an environmental challenge with air quality. While the Beijing smog has captured the headlines and made for some dramatic photo opportunities, London is not as immune to the ills of air pollution as we might like to think. Although the UK’s air quality problems are less visible to the naked eye, or indeed the camera, they are still very much an issue. Once the Beijing Games are over, and all eyes turn towards London, we will have to prove that our clear skies are not harbouring an invisible threat. London is widely recognised as one of the most polluted cities in Europe for tiny particulates. These exacerbate conditions such as asthma and lung disease, with poor air quality resulting in between 12,000 and 24,000 premature deaths each year in the UK. As well as this human cost, there …

Beijing Day 1 046 - for web

Getting around Beijing

May 18, 2008   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy


In preparation for the Olympics, the Beijing authorities have implemented a range of measures to ensure a smooth transport experience for the anticipated half a million visitors to the Olympics held in a city which is already home to 17 million people. Three subway lines and some 3,800 compressed natural gas buses have been added. Alternate driving days have been implemented based on the last digit of vehicles’ license plates since July 20, while older vehicles with higher levels of emissions have been banned from the city during the Games. In addition, 70% of all government cars have been taken off the road for the duration. All this, with the goal to reduce the 3.3 million vehicles in Beijing by half during the Games. This is noticeable – most of the vehicles on the street are busses and taxis. I travelled part of the way to the park by metro on Wednesday with Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell, (who says ministers are chauffeured everywhere?). It is efficient, easy to navigate and mercifully air conditioned, (Beijing has also installed 200MW of wind energy in recent years) and your mobile phone works underground. However, the journey from the centre of Beijing needs four …