Monday, August 18, 2008

Michael Phelps and The Other Side of The Story (Continued)

When I posted a blog entry in June titled The Other Side of The Story, I never expected to be posting a continuation of that message during the Beijing Olympics. At the time, I'd witnessed differing press coverage in China and the U.S. about the Sichuan earthquake, and I hoped my message could bring a different perspective for people who can't see the other side of the story.

Now, I'm seeing gaps between the two sides again. I thought Olympics coverage would focus only on sports and was surprised when the reports included politics and continual criticism of China's achievements. Right after the Opening Ceremony, I wanted to know what the New York Times wrote about it, and I was surprised to read all the between-the-lines criticism when it tried to say it was a spectacular performance. I started to write about it in my last blog entry on the Opening Ceremony, but then I thought maybe this would be the only article in such a mood. So I didn't mention it. But now, after reading this article about how Chinese think of Michael Phelps, I feel compelled to write about it.

The author says Chinese don’t know much about Phelps because he isn't like NBA stars or Chinese athletes such as Yao Ming or Liu Xiang. The author says few Chinese know about him because “there are empty seats in the Water Cube aquatics center for his races, state-run Chinese newspapers are providing muted coverage…” I'm surprised the author didn’t know those empty seats are all from multinational sponsors (maybe also Phelps’ sponsor) who hold onto tickets for their clients who don’t pay for the tickets and didn’t show up. The swimming tickets are the most in-demand tickets, even more than track and field. Chinese buy them online or in front of the gate for 5 to 10 times the original price. All Olympic tickets were completely sold out in China in July, after all rounds since April 2007. So if you see empty seats at any game, don’t be surprised. Those were tickets that sponsors or their clients didn’t use.

About the “state-run Chinese newspapers” coverage of Phelps, I don’t know which paper the author meant, maybe one I don’t read and few other Chinese read. I read the two most popular newspapers in Beijing, Beijing Youth Daily and Beijing Evening News. Since Phelps arrived in Beijing before the Opening Ceremony, those papers reported on his arrival at the airport, his first visit to the spectacular Water Cube, and his medals in Athens and beyond. Of course, once the competitions began, these papers reported on him with long articles and color photos. I learned lots about Phelps, everything from why his body is superior as a swimmer to how much he eats and sleeps, how his mother raised him, and what he does in the Olympic village. If “a concern about inflaming Chinese nationalism might be at work in the restrained coverage of Phelps” as said by Susan Brownell, a Fulbright scholar at Beijing Sport University, how could all these reports come from “state-run” newspapers. And you can see some of them here:

I hope you can now see the other side of the story. By the way, have you read any articles about Beijing’s sky, blue and sunny since last Friday?