Paul Greenberg

In the glow of the Olympics, the regime sponsoring them can hope that some of its more sordid policies will be overlooked.

See the triumph A. Hitler scored with the Nazi Olympics of 1936, featuring the New Germany. Willkommen! Pay no attention to those frightened little people being herded away. The 400-meter relay is today and you don't want to miss it. So move along. Schnell!)

This year it's the New China that's putting on the Olympics. (Huan Ying! Welcome to the new capitalized, commercialized, cosmeticized and no longer so Communist China. You'll want to see the Synchronized Swimming, the Artistic Gymnastics. Yes, that's Tiananmen Square, but nothing important has happened there since the time of the emperors. Pay no mind to the protesters cordoned off in the corner. We'll deal with them later.)

Like other totalitarian Olympics - Berlin, 1936; Moscow, 1980 - all will be in order in Beijing, 2008. And had better be.

One World One Dream! That's the official motto of these proceedings. No need to go into detail about Tibet and certain other of the host's nightmarish policies. For example:

Beijing's diplomatic support for the vicious regime in Sudan, whose ruthless leader, one Omar al-Bashir, has just been indicted by an international court for genocide, crimes against humanity and the usual litany of war crimes. There's a reason this year's games should be called the Genocide Olympics.

Beijing was also a great supporter of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe until that minor but vicious tyrant began to stumble. And it provides diplomatic cover for the brutal Burmese junta, too. These people always seem to find one another.

They would seem an odd couple at first, the Genocide Olympics in Beijing and the wholesome spirit of amateur sport. But they go together as naturally as crime and the criminal's wanting to change the subject.

In preparation for this quadrennial festival of sportsmanship, the authorities have rounded up hundreds of prominent dissenters - some 700 at last count. Just like the old days in Moscow and, before that, in Berlin.

All will be harmonious in Beijing, too, by the time all the tourists have poured in. The Olympic Village will be pretty as a picture. A misleading one. Prince Potemkin had nothing on Hu Jintao.

Politics and the Olympics have been intertwined since there have been Olympics, ancient or modern, and this year is no different. The general who directed the American team at the 1928 Olympics, Douglas MacArthur, called them "war without weapons."

But the Games must go on, if only to provide repressive regimes with cover. "Think of the press as a great keyboard upon which the government can play." -Josef Goebbels, Reichsminister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, 1936.

More impressive than all the folderol that will attend the opening of 2008 Olympics is the hypocrisy of pretending that something like the Genocide Olympics is a celebration of international peace and brotherhood. What it really celebrates is power politics, empty blather, and sport as (very big) business.

In a classic little essay that's well worth re-reading - as so many of his are - George Orwell dissented from the prevailing view then and now that international sports bring people together. If they do, he argued, it was only to pit them against each other:

"I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield. Even if one didn't know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.

"Nearly all the sports practised nowadays are competitive. You play to win, and the game has little meaning unless you do your utmost to win. On the village green, where you pick up sides and no feeling of local patriotism is involved, it is possible to play simply for the fun and exercise: but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused. Anyone who has played even in a school football match knows this." -"The Sporting Spirit," The Tribune, December 14, 1945.

Orwell couldn't help noticing the bad feelings these mass spectacles inspire, and he'd never even seen a Yankees-Red Sox game. But he knew about soccer riots.

Any summer camp counselor who's ever had to referee a color war at the end of the season knows the phenomenon writ small - but it's just as vicious. Divide kids into two different groups, give them different insignia and group loyalties, have them compete at games, and they'll promptly start snarling at each other. Frightening.

The best thing about these Genocide Olympics, like the procession of the Olympic Torch earlier this year that set off protests in international capital after capital, is that this year's Games may produce some trenchant criticism of the whole sham - like George Orwell's back in 1945.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.