Beijing to announce mascot for 2008 Olympics

After years of fierce lobbying and months of secrecy, Beijing is preparing to announce its mascot for the 2008 Olympics, opening a marketing blitz that is expected to reap record profits. The government was planning an elaborate, nationally televised gala Friday evening to mark the 1,000-day countdown until the Games at a Beijing sports arena. Organizers say that amid the hoopla, senior Chinese leaders were to unveil the mascot, or perhaps mascots. A plethora of real and mythic creatures were among the candidates considered by Chinese leaders, Olympic officials and design specialists over the past year. Among them: the panda, the Tibetan antelope, the dragon and a mischievous magical monkey out of Chinese folklore.

The choice, the subject of lively media speculation for months, has been a secret since it was finalized three months ago, sealed by confidentiality agreements and the habitual secrecy of the communist government.

At stake for China is one of the most marketable symbols in the Olympics _ a symbol that stands to generate significant revenues and public support for the Beijing Games, which will cost an estimated US$38 billion (Ђ32.5 billion).

Sales of licensed products, including those with the mascot, have brought in about US$300 million (Ђ255 million) at the Sydney and Athens Olympics. Host cities keep 10 to 15 percent of the royalties, helping to defray the costs of staging the Games.

Officials with the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games say they expect sales of such products to be higher still. To capitalize on the mascot publicity, Beijing is launching an extensive marketing campaign. An animated film put together by Chinese designer Han Meilin was to be screened at Friday night's unveiling and is expected to be replayed on Chinese television in coming days.

On Saturday, postage stamps and more than 300 other licensed products of the mascot go on sale at 188 authorized venues across the country, widening a product line of T-shirts, caps, pens and bags bearing the 2008 Games logo, according to Olympic officials.

To capture an entire range of consumers, the mascot products will range from fluorescent pens for 8 yuan (U$1; 85 euro cents) to souvenirs made from precious metals selling for tens of thousands of yuan (thousands of dollars or euros).

Beyond the sales expectations, China has tried to use the mascot-selection process to involve communities far from Beijing. On hand for the unveiling at the Workers Gymnasium in eastern Beijing were 100 children "ambassadors" from western provinces.

Organizers of the Games threw open the selection process, inviting suggestions from the public and local governments, and many of the latter lobbied fiercely for the honor.

Sichuan province spent 2 million yuan (US$240,000; 185,000) in public and privately donated funds on promoting the pandareports the AP. I.L.

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