BEIJING, Oct 15 (Reuters) A measure of the importance China attaches to hosting a successful Olympic Games came when it merited a mention in President Hu Jintao's keynote speech to the 17th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party today.
China has invested a great deal of prestige in next year's Beijing Olympics and many see the sporting spectacle as a coming out party, an exhibition of the country's ''soft power'' to complement its huge economic growth.
''We must organise the 2008 Olympic Games, Paralympic Games and 2010 World Expo well,'' Hu said in his keynote speech to the biggest meeting of the ruling Party in five years.
Many analysts predict that China will seal its rise to superpower status in sport by topping the medals table at the Games next August.
China is, however, hoping that the Olympic legacy will go beyond their 23,000 elite athletes and encourage the growth of sport among the remainder of the 1.3 billion population. This ambition also drew a comment from Hu.
''We must comprehensively develop mass participation of sports among the people,'' he added.
The Beijing Olympics has almost universal support from the Chinese people and preparations have drawn little but praise from International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials during their frequent visits to the Chinese capital.
Managing China's booming economy was one of the main themes of Hu's speech and it is a by-product of that growth, namely pollution, that continues to be the major obstacle to hosting a good Games.
IOC president Jacques Rogge said in August that some endurance events may have to be postponed if the air quality in Beijing is not good enough.
''We still need to exert more effort (treating air pollution) for the Olympics, as well as to make the capital a more liveable city,'' Beijing Communist Party chief and BOCOG president Liu Qi said on the sidelines of the Congress.
Organisers also pledged to guarantee food safety during the Games period and reinforced a promise in the city's Olympic bid to ''help developing and poor countries participate''.
''We have promised to establish a sports foundation to help (these countries) develop sports,'' said Liu Jingmin, BOCOG executive vice president.
How Chinese authorities will deal with dissent at Games time is another matter provoking plenty of comment, particularly from Western rights groups.
A timely illustration of the issue came on Monday when a protester was dragged away by security and bundled into a police van in front of a clock on Tiananmen Square counting down to the Games.
Security and air quality are bound to be among the major talking points when the inspectors of the IOC coordination commission make their ninth visit to Beijing starting October 23.
The Beijing Olympics open on August 8, 2008 with the Paralympics starting on September 6.
REUTERS BJR HT1724