China slashes National Games budget by 78%

China slashes National Games budget by 78%

BEIJING — Sports powerhouse China has slashed the budget for its National Games by 78 per cent amid dramatically slowing economic growth and a government campaign to rein in public spending.

Spending on the 12th games, to be held from Aug 31 to Sept 12 in the north-eastern province of Liaoning, will be capped at 800 million yuan (S$164.8 million), the Deputy Director of the organising committee, Mr He Min, was quoted as saying by state media yesterday. That is a sharp drop from the original figure of 3.6 billion yuan.

“We hope to create a new manner of organising big events in a thrifty way,’’ he said on Wednesday.

Held every four years, the National Games are China’s premier sports event and a crucial testing ground for future Olympic champions.

With events broadcast nationwide and national leaders in attendance, host cities usually compete to outspend each other on elaborate ceremonies and glitzy venues.

Hence, Liaoning’s decision to brag about its cost-cutting represents a sharp shift in tone among officialdom and reflects the stark new economic realities.

The ruling Communist Party’s economic growth target this year is 7.5 per cent, down by almost half from 2007’s sizzling pace of 14.2 per cent. Some analysts have suggested that growth might sink below 7 per cent in the coming months, which is perilously low by Chinese standards.

Meanwhile, debt among local governments is soaring, while the country’s politically-sensitive global trade surplus contracted by 12.4 per cent in June from a year earlier to US$27.1 billion (S$34.2 billion). Growth in exports to the United States, China’s largest foreign market, fell to 1.8 per cent from May’s 3.5 per cent.

Even before those figures were announced, the government of President Xi Jinping had put the brakes on generous lending to local governments that often ends up being wasted on vanity projects.

Mr Xi himself has demanded that officials eliminate lavish banquets and other wasteful practices, and trade in their foreign luxury cars for local brands.

Mr He said savings would come from reducing the scale of the games and cutting back on ceremony.

The number of venues was cut from 129 to 117, of which only 10 are newly constructed, while the number of teams competing will fall from 46 to 38, eliminating about 1,500 competitors, he said. The last games, in 2009, featured 10,991 athletes. The number of events will also be cut by two to 31, he added, without saying which will be dropped.

Spending on the opening and closing ceremonies will be cut by 90 per cent to only 9 million yuan, which will be achieved in part by holding the opening ceremony during daylight hours, allowing for major savings on lighting and fireworks displays.

The number of foreign guests will be cut by half while conferences, exhibitions, non-sports related ceremonies and awards, unnecessary souvenirs and banquets will be done away with. AP