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And the mascot for Beijing Olympics is ...
Updated: 2005-11-11 18:58

After a three-year lobbying campaign and a yearlong closed-door selection process, 2008 Beijing Olympic mascot, or possibly five mascots, will be announced here at 8 o'clock Friday night.

Mascots are the most marketable symbols in the Olympics business. Beijing's decision will have a direct impact on sales of licensed mascot products, which could help the organizer offset part of its costs, estimated at 2.3 billion US dollars.

Sydney sold 213 million US dollars-worth of its three mascot dolls and Athens earned 201 million by selling its mascots, Athena and Phevos. It is estimated that Beijing's mascots would bring a profit of more than 300 million US dollars.

Wu Jiaqing, deputy head of the bidding team for Lianyungang city of east China's Jiangsu Province, and his colleagues have been shuttling between Lianyungang and Beijing since December 2002, advocating the Monkey King, a classic Chinese fairytale figure, as the mascot for Beijing's Olympic Games.

"No one lobbied for a mascot before the Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984," said Lu Dongbin, professor of the People's University of China, "Because organizers always lost money at thattime."

Southwest China's Sichuan Province has spent more than 4 million yuan (about 489,000 dollars) promoting the Giant panda for the mascot, going so far as to appoint a vice provincial governor to oversee the campaign.

The province also set up a special office in Beijing to lobby officials of the Olympic organizing committee.

Three northwest China's provinces have jointly recommended the Tibetan antelope as the mascot, hoping the move would draw more public attention to the endangered animal.

More than a dozen other candidates, including a Chinese dragon,a tiger and a red-crowned crane, also joined the heated campaign.

Despite the bright prospect of huge profit from selling licenced mascot products, local governments are not the direct beneficiary as the money will go to the Olympic Organizing Committee.

Local governments think their bidding campaigns could benefit their local economies.

"It does make sense for local governments to consider local booming in tourism, name recognition and investment in a transitional period from central planning to a market economy," professor Lu said.

The Monkey King is widely known in China as a legendary hero in the novel "Journey To the West", whose home "flower-fruit mountain" lies near downtown of Liangyungang city.

Three-year's bidding has been reciprocated by an obvious increase in the city's tourism revenue.

Statistics from the city's tourism bureau show that total tourism revenues in the first ten months of this year have accounted for 5.2 billion yuan (approximately 636.5 million US dollars), up 48.4 percent year-on-year, about one tenth of the city's annual GDP.

Visitors to the city this year has so far amounted to 6.39 million, some 41,000 of which were foreigners.

However, the total expenditure of lobbying for the Monkey Kingwill not exceed three million yuan (approximately 367.2 thousand US dollars), according to Wu Jiaqing.

"We have been a winner in the big campaign," said Wu, "even if the Monkey King is not on the final list."

The International Olympic Committee approved the choice of Beijing's organizing committee in August. The date of official mascot announcement has been postponed for three times.

The officials deciding the result and the authorized distributor of the mascot have signed confidentiality agreements.

It seems that the Beijing's organizing committee cares less about the specific animal than local governments and the public. Jiang Xiaoyu, executive vice-president of the organizing committee, revealed the number of mascots could be "as many as a team's starters in a basketball game".

Han Meilin, head of a designing group of the Beijing's mascot, on Tuesday estimated there would be five.

"Five" matches up with the five rings of the Olympic symbol and the five elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth) believed by ancient Chinese to explain the origin of the world.

The Olympic mascots have stimulated debate on the Internet.

"We all need to wait for the final result tonight," an official of Beijing's committee told Xinhua on Friday.

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