BEIJING (Reuters) - On the top floor of the Yansha Friendship Shopping Centre in Beijing, Huang Kuoshan and 49 of his colleagues are waiting to be sworn in to the Beijing Workers’ Civilisation Cheerleading Squad.
With the Beijing Olympic venues all but ready and the $40 billion upgrade of the city’s infrastructure nearing completion, it is part of a drive by city authorities to ensure bad manners do not mar the August 8-24 Games.
Gathered in an old room draped with red curtains where Communist Party meetings are usually held, the shop employees, clad in their company-issue tracksuits, raise their right fists in the air and repeat an oath.
“I swear I’m an honorable member of the worker’s unit cheerleaders for the Beijing Olympic Games,” they intone.
“I will promote the Olympic spirit, learn Olympic knowledge, spread Olympic etiquette, serve warmly, protect the environment and follow regulations,” they added.
“I’ll cheer for the athletes, glory for the country and applaud the Olympics.”
Beijing’s campaigns against spitting, littering and queue-jumping have had much publicity, but there is also concern that swearing, lack of familiarity with the rules of sport and overly partisan home crowds might also prove an embarrassment.
For Huang, the three hour classes on the basics of volleyball and how to cheer properly are worth it for the chance to watch this year’s Olympics on the sidelines as a spectator.
“It’s pretty fun, but I also feel a sense of duty to support our teams and our country,” the 32-year-old told Reuters.
Huang and his colleagues were selected out of over 3,000 workers of the Yansha Group, a state-owned enterprise. More than 100,000 workers in the city are receiving training.
Besides going over the basic rules of volleyball, referee Lu Weiping lectures the class about possible scenarios where audience participation may be required.
“It’s very possible that balls will bounce out of court and I hope everyone will pass the balls back to the ball boys and girls,” Lu tells his audience.
“I hope you won’t hit the ball straight back. A player can be seriously injured if he isn’t careful and steps on the ball,” Lu adds.
For western audiences, such basic instructions may seem superfluous. But for many Chinese workers, these rules are their first introduction to being a spectator at a sporting event.
“During volleyball games, you can scream out loud. You can also applaud and congratulate the players, but we don’t want to overdo it,” said Lu.
Beijing sports crowds, consisting mainly of workers, students and the city’s rising middle class, have been known to get rowdy, to the embarrassment of the authorities.
In August 2004, angry soccer fans went on the rampage after hosts China lost to Japan in the final of the Asian Cup.
A July 2005 basketball game between China and Puerto Rico in Beijing deteriorated into a brawl, with fans hurling insults and missiles at the visiting team.
The Beijing organizers are determined to change this image and use the Olympics as a chance to portray China as a “civilized country.”
“Not only will they serve as civilized leaders or sports spectators during the Games, but they will also act as communicators and spreaders of civilisation in our society,” said Yuan Xuzhong, a Beijing’s Workers’ Union official.
Besides cheering, the students also learn elaborate choreographed routines involving everything from twirling batons to waving huge colored flags.
Li Jinglan, a middle school physical education teacher who is helping lead the campaign, enthusiastically drills the workers as they wave their yellow batons in unison while shouting slogans such as “One world! One dream! New Beijing!”
“There is a certain degree of difficulty, because there isn’t really a set formula or model for cheerleading,” Li said.
“Therefore, China has its own characteristics, so when they perform, I think there is something unique and positive that comes out.”
Despite tickets being available for some events for as little as 30 yuan ($4.17), it is not certain that Huang and his colleagues will get the chance to perform their routines in front of the world at the Games.
“It’s probably not possible for us all to attend as a group,” Li admits.
(Reporting by Beijing Newsroom, editing by Ben Blanchard and Megan Goldin)
Take a look at the Countdown to Beijing Olympics blog at blogs.reuters.com/china