The Chinese government and BOCOG desperately need to start listening to all the really smart, well-paid foreign PR firms they’ve hired if they want to avoid continually getting caught with their pants at ankle-height:
The Sunday Times publishes an article claiming that at least 10 workers had been killed in the construction of the Olympic “Bird’s Nest” Stadium here in Beijing. The Times arrives at this figure through interviews with employees from the site.
Witnesses have told The Sunday Times of seeing workers plummet to their deaths from the perilous heights of the stadium, which was designed by a consortium including Arup, the British engineering firm, and Herzog & de Meuron, the Swiss architects.
The bodies were swiftly removed by police, who sealed off accident scenes with orange tape and cleared other workers from the area while the dead were loaded into police vehicles, witnesses said.
Managers and police ordered the workers not to mention the deaths to anyone and not to talk about the accidents among themselves.
The usual-suspect trolls show up in the comments section of the Times article:
This is yet another cheap shot at running down the China Olympics, disguised as investigative reporting.
Oh yes, there is always a big cover up whenever the chinese communists are concerned.
Yet not a shred of evidence is seen in this report.
Refreshingly, others weigh in with a different perspective:
I’m shocked by this article, and i can imagine that all the descriptions concerning the problems in China are real. I’m very sad for the dead workers,and their names should be memorized by the peoples who believe and behavor the Olympic spirit.Strongly demand for the amelioration of working conditions by chinese government!!!
Shocked and angered by the Times story, BOCOG fires back the next day. Responding to questions from members of the foreign press corps, BOCOG spokesman Sun Weide states:
“First of all the report by the Sunday Times is not true,” he said. “Secondly, the Beijing municipal government and BOCOG attach great importance to the safety of the Olympic venue construction… and we have taken resolute measures to ensure safety, quality control and timeline…Construction of the National Stadium is going according to plan and under proper safety standards,”
Still facing questions on the Sunday Times’ allegations, Minister of the State Administration for Work Safety, Li Yingzhong says his ministry is willing to investigate claims of deaths at the stadium and that if the claims turn out to be true, there will be repercussions. (李叔很生气，后果很严重, to borrow a phrase.)
On the same day, Hu Jintao calls on officials and cadres to step up propaganda work to improve stability at home and China’s image abroad. “We should work hard on external propaganda to further display and improve a positive state image.”
Source The Guardian
Officials finally admit that there were deaths at the Worker’s Stadium, but 6 not 10, and not all at the Stadium, but at other places, and some were injured but not killed, and we did pay them off, but didn’t buy their silence and…yeah.
A Chinese official said Monday that six workers have died over the last five years working on venues for the Beijing Olympics. Ding Zhenkuan, deputy chief of Beijing’s Municipal Bureau of Work Safety, said two of those deaths took place in 2006 and 2007 at the 91,000-seat National Stadium. He did not specify where the other deaths took place.
He also said there was one injury that required hospitalization and three that did not.
It’s tragic that the workers died and my thoughts go out to the families of the victims. Unfortunately, construction–especially on a project the scale of an Olympic venue–is a hard and dangerous job. As most reports noted, there were fatalities in Athens in 2004 and Atlanta in 1996. What went wrong here in Beijing was the knee-jerk reaction by BOCOG to play cover-up at the first sign of trouble. It’s an impulse that if left unchecked I promise is going to come back and bite them on the ass this summer when waves of foreign press come rolling into town. If they had simply announced the deaths as they happened this would have been a non-story in the foreign media. I don’t want to downplay the loss of life here, but the story really wasn’t about the workers, it was about how BOCOG handled the PR crisis. In essence: BOCOG became the story.
I wonder too if there might not be a disconnect between BOCOG and the government ministries. It was BOCOG who issued the early denials, but by mid-week, the Ministry of Work Safety had stepped in, and in the end it was a representative from the Beijing Municipal government who issued the statement admitting that there had been fatalities. I’d be interested in how that all went down behind the scenes.
It’s the Olympics. It’s a giant celebration and for good reason, but thousands of athletes, fans, journalists, and politicians are coming to Beijing all at once for two weeks in August. There are going to be problems and hassles and crises as there always will be with an event of this size, it’s the cost of doing business. But that said, China will be judged not just for what goes right, but for how the Chinese government handles the situation when things go wrong. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr: The ultimate measure is not where one stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where one stands in times of crisis and challenge. There will be challenges during the games, and BOCOG needs to be ready to face those challenges with candor and openness.