If you believe the hype, you probably think Beijing is a lick of paint away from hosting the 2008 Olympics tomorrow. Graham Watts took a look for himself and found that not a single building has been finished - so maybe it's time all the London Olympic doomsters took a very long jump?
There is a Chinese whisper doing the rounds in response to mentions of the Olympic Games. Sceptics will start by saying that London will not be ready in time for the 2012 games. Others agree and follow up with the knowing statement that Beijing has already built every facility it needs to stage the Olympics in 2008. It's as if Beijing's readiness is a stick to aid our own self-flagellation. Having just visited the proposed sites of most of the Beijing Olympiad, I can say with certainty that talk of Chinese progress is grossly exaggerated. In fact, it simply isn't true.
Beijing will be constructing 14 facilities from scratch (about twice as many as London) and there will be eight temporary venues and 12 refurbished ones. There will also be 65 training camps that the international federations (the governing bodies E E for each sport) have requested, most of which will be renovations. As in London, many events will take place a long way from the capital: equestrian medals will be contested in Hong Kong; the sailing regatta is in Qingdao; and football will take place in Qinhuangdao, Shanghai, Shenyang and Tianjin.
You'll need to wait for bird's nests and ice cubes
In fact, contrary to any rumours you might hear, not one of Beijing's Olympic facilities is yet built or renovated. Both the imposing Olympic stadium, nicknamed the "bird's nest", and the cool aquatics centre next door, known as the "ice cube", are taking shape, but neither will be completed until well into 2007 and they are not due to be commissioned and tested until early 2008. These stadiums are the remarkable centrepieces of the Olympic Green but elsewhere on that site there are huge tracts of wasteland where the venues for archery, hockey and tennis will eventually be built. That whole complex will not be completed until the end of 2007, at the earliest, although test events are scheduled for tennis and archery in August next year. My own sport of fencing will also be in the Olympic Green - a 750 m walk from the village - housed in the imposing new International Convention Centre, which has been designed by a team including our own RMJM. The centre is taking shape, but it's some way from completion and isn't due to be tested until the fencing world championships in April 2008.
At 800 × 900 m, the Olympic Village will be half the size of its counterpart in Athens, consisting of 20 six-storey and 22 nine-storey buildings that will house more than 16,000 people during its two months of operation. At present it is no more than a few holes in the ground; the only structure on the site is a temporary viewing platform for visiting VIPs.
It's official: it's all going swimmingly
The same story is repeated everywhere. The official data tells us that the Ying Tung Natatorium, which will house water polo and the swimming discipline of the modern pentathlon, already exists, having been built for the 1990 Asian Games; in reality, there is the discarded shell of a building with long diving boards eerily cutting through the darkness, illuminated only by the reflections from thousands of shards of broken glass. A huge job needs to be done to turn this into a modern aquatics centre before it is called into use for the China Open water polo tournament in November 2007.
Apart from the fact that both cities will have to accommodate a similar number of sports (actually, London has two fewer, since baseball and softball have been excluded from its games) there is nothing vaguely comparable in the way the cities are getting ready. We speak about a possible labour shortage in London (another Chinese whisper, to be sure) whereas the Beijing authorities have 1000 people a week arriving from the provinces seeking work. A representative of BUCG, the contractor for the Arup-engineered bird's nest, told me that at the height of construction activity at the stadium there were up to 7000 men working in three consecutive 12-hour shift patterns. These men live in incredibly spartan prefabricated blocks built adjacent to each site. Unskilled workers earn somewhere between £30 and £60 a month, plus their board and lodging, and probably send 80% of this home to their families. There are hordes of these yellow-hatted workers all over Beijing and cranes are everywhere. This construction boom is explained by the government's intention to put a moratorium on all construction work for several months before the games - something only the Chinese could contemplate. Imagine the consequences of a moratorium on construction work in London for most of 2012.
All sites were clean and efficiently organised with signs everywhere to explain processes and intended outcomes and thousands of kilometres of green plastic netting covering everything that wasn't moving. Modern technology sits alongside ancient practice, and it was quaintly unsurprising to see a man driving a donkey and cart delivering bricks to one of the world's largest tower cranes.
Not enough hard hats to go around
Every worker was wearing a hard hat, although many did not have appropriate gloves or footwear. Nobody was able to tell me about fatalities on Olympic sites, although rumours were rife. I wouldn't like to speculate about the number of deaths but there is clearly a very different concept of risk in China than there is here. As a visitor to several sites, I was often given a hard hat to wear but there were never enough to go round so we visited as a mixed bunch of hatted and hatless guests, which rather defeated the object of the exercise.
When I left Beijing, the giant countdown clock by Tiananmen Square registered 832 days until the opening ceremony and so if I was writing about London, this would be May 2010, and nothing is yet built. It is worth thinking about this when the next sceptic tries that Chinese whisper on you. I have no doubt that Beijing will be ready but I am even more convinced that London will get it right.
Graham Watts is chief executive of the Construction Industry Council and also the performance director for British Fencing