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American Enjoys Unique Position With Beijing Olympics Organizing Committee


There is only one American who has been working in senior management for the Beijing Olympics Organizing Committee. His name is Jeff Ruffolo and his title is Senior Expert. VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer is in Beijing and had a chance to talk to him about his duties and how he got hired.

Jeff Ruffolo worked at the last three Summer Olympics for the U.S. radio broadcast rights holder Westwood One. But at the Athens Games he was told, because of cutbacks, he would not likely be hired for the Beijing Olympics.

Ruffolo, 50, was determined to find a job that would allow him to take part in this year's Olympics. For nine years he had been doing international publicity for one of the large airlines in China, China Southern Airways, and made occasional trips from his home office in California to Guangzhou. Through some connections and persistence he was able to land a position with the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, know as BOCOG.

Ruffolo has a passion for the Olympics and he told VOA he was able to get that across by playing BOCOG members one of his radio play-by-play calls of a volleyball match at the Athens Olympics.

"The Americans will go to the semifinals for the first time since 1992! The United States wins, 17-15! Holy Moly what a play," he said.

Once on board at BOCOG, Ruffolo said he made himself available to the various departments, such as sports, environment, transportation and the torch relay, to be sure all of their information and press releases read in proper English.

"The difference with the Chinese is they will write in Chinese, then they will translate it into Chinglish, which is this mutant form of English that most people around the world will look at and say, 'My God, what the hell is that?' And I look at it and say 'Yikes!' because if it gets out to the international media and it's Chinglish, the rest of the world goes, 'oye, forget about it, it's terrible," he added. "This is the product you're putting out and you're going to host the Olympic Games in a year?'"

Ruffolo said he never learned Chinese language to do his job and still only knows about nine or 10 words.

As the Games got closer, he moved into BOCOG's media communications department and during these Olympics he has been assisting all the foreign media.

"I'm not a spokesman and never will be," said Ruffolo. "I'm not a representative of the government. I'm a senior expert, so I can explain to the journalists what the organizers are doing. I can get answers to your questions. I can pick up my phone and call a guy and say, 'here, talk to him, talk to her. It's a whole different type of relationship."

He said the Chinese organizers were always concerned about criticism.

"When we would put on a press conference at the media center, they would want quotes of what the media is saying," he added. "So I would get quotes about what people were saying about us, and they would only report the good, not they bad, and there was plenty of bad. Believe me, there were a lot of naysayers about these Games."

As might be expected, Ruffolo said he believes these have been a great Olympics, and he told VOA about what he thinks will make an impact.

"I think the biggest change is the young volunteers. You see, there's a concept here called "lao wai." And lao wai is the foreign devil with tails who has come in their past to destroy China," he added. "And the biggest change here will be the young people seeing that we neither have tails nor horns, that we're just people. We can do more than just get along. That change will be seismic here. It will be a reverberation for decades throughout the society."

BOCOG Senior Expert Jeff Ruffolo said he will be unemployed in a month. But he will return to his wife and daughter in California, whom have seen for less than three weeks in the past year and a half. But he says it's all been worth it. It has been an unforgettable experience working with BOCOG in China and one he will treasure for the rest of his life.

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