Outdoing the West in idol worship

A page from Allon Sinai's Beijing diary.

allon sinai Olympics 88 (photo credit: )
allon sinai Olympics 88
(photo credit: )
In the 12 days since the start of the Beijing Games visitors have been unable to avoid the numerous indications of the westernization of this ancient country. One of them was never more apparent than on Tuesday night at the city's Workers Stadium. At times during the soccer semifinal between Argentina and Brazil it seemed as though Lionel Messi and Ronaldinho were actually playing a one-on-one game as their every touch of the ball received rapturous applause, with the rest of the players generally ignored unless they scored. The Chinese's fascination with sporting icons has reached such extremes that even when Ronaldinho appeared on the stadium's big screen while the Brazilian national anthem was being played the entire crowd screamed in delight at a time in what supposed to be standing silently. And it's not just soccer superstars that are big among the Chinese. Messi may have had his name chanted during all of Argentina's matches in China, whether he was playing or not, but even he didn't receive the honor tennis great Roger Federer did during the Opening Ceremony. The spectators at the Bird's Nest released a massive roar when the face of the Swiss star was shown on the stadium's screen, louder than any other they made throughout the night, apart from when the Chinese delegation entered the stadium. The global corporations have played an integral part in Chinese life in recent years, just as they do in any western country, and their use of sporting heroes for marketing purposes has made the likes of Messi and Federer into household names across what remains a one-party country. China may still have a long way to go before it can be regarded as a western country through and through, but when it comes to idolization of sporting stars it has already met and even surpassed the standard set by Europe and the US.