Photos: Ray Ally
Watching beach volleyball on a bright sunny blue sky day in Beijing you could almost think you had been transported to Rio or Bondi beach. This is especially true when Beijing’s own bikini Baywatch cheerleaders come out to play and turn the serious sporting event into carnival atmosphere.
The volleyball stadium is at Chaoyang Park and one of the many temporary venues being used for the games. It’s a modern designed structure that holds around 12,000 people but despite its size the open design makes the venue feel quite intimate. In fact it reminds me of the old Roman amphitheatre where the gladiators use fight to the death. However today’s warriors are not fighting for their life just the glory of winning gold.
Girls in bikinis is not something you often see in Beijing, so it made a nice surprise to see them at the games and for them to be such an integral part of the whole experience. They would come out during the interval when the players were resting and synchronise dance to rock music to entertain the crowd. If China had a team playing they would lead the chanting of “Zhong Guo Dui, Jia You” (Come on China team) to get the spectators cheering on their feet.
This concept of cheerleaders is nothing new, having been introduced at the Athens games in 2004. However China has gone one step further, as in most things and now introduced it to over 17 sports. There are over 400 girls who have been specially selected by the Cultural Activities Department of BOCOG and the Gymnastics Managing Centre of the General Administration for Sport. Both quite serious sounding bodies but I am sure the interview process was lively and fun, more like a Pop Idol show.
The volleyball cheerleaders have been specially trained for the dance routines and more importantly specially tanned so that they looked realistic and believable as ‘beach babes’. This is quite unusual in China as the concept of tanning and sunbathing is normally frowned upon for health and cultural reasons.
Historically the beauty standard in China has always been for white skin as this was seen as pure and denoted a higher social order. Dark skin was seen as less attractive and meant that you were often working outside as a peasant or labourer and so denoted a local social class. This concept has not really change over centuries and is still perpetuated but the large number of brands like SK2 that sell skin whitening products which are hugely popular among Chinese women.
Watching sport is becoming more mainstream as sponsors try to attract a broader cross section of the public including families and children. The cheerleading aspect is definitely one way to make the experience more entertaining so this scene will become more familiar across all sports.
Sadly I don’t expect to see too many ‘beach babes’ in Beijing after the games have finished but as the culture, attitudes, and fashion are changing fast in China it might not be long before they come back.