Olympian Problems

Posted: Apr 11, 2008 10:43 AM
Olympian Problems

The 2008 Summer Olympic Games are scheduled to be held in Beijing, China from August 8 to August 24.

As part of the run-up to the Opening Ceremonies, China has mounted an Olympic Flame tour - a highly staged effort to drum up support by having runners carry a torch who's flame was lit in a ceremony in Greece on March 24, as the official International Olympic Committee (IOC) website reports, "by a Holy Priestess, according to the traditional ritual, using the sun's rays and a parabolic mirror."

Since that time the Torch has been mugged in Paris, London, and San Francisco by demonstrators who, apparently, blame it for the troubles between China and Tibet.

The Modern Games were reinstated in 1896 in Athens with the goal of:

"to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play."

A worthy effort which, unfortunately, has been - as Hamlet said - honored more in the breach than in the observance.

It is precisely because the world's attention turns so fully to the Olympic Games that the whole business becomes as large a stage for political actors as it is a field for athletes.

There is a rule, according to the UK Times, against athletes participating in propaganda. The reporting by Ashling O'Connor has IOC president Jacques Rogge saying that "that competitors were free to express their political views but faced sanctions if they indulged in propaganda."

Fine line there, it seems to me.

Sen. Hillary Clinton has broad-jumped into the fray by demanding that President Bush follow the lead of UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown (whom she praised) in boycotting the Opening Ceremonies.

Once again Hillary appears to have been misinformed. According to The Times, Brown had long ago announced he would be attending the Closing Ceremonies instead and 10 Downing Street has been trying to knock down the notion that Brown was now the poster child for high-level protest of the Chinese government.

The IOC didn't just decide Tuesday afternoon to allow China to host the 2008 Olympics. They awarded the Games to Beijing in July, 2001 with Sports Illustrated saying:

"The International Olympic Committee put aside human rights concerns in making their historic decision, hoping to foster further change in the world's most populous country."

The point being, the world has had seven years to complain about the 2008 games and has had nearly 60 years to complain about China's swallowing of Tibet which (according to the BBC webpage) occurred in 1950.

The very people who are calling on political leaders, advertisers and athletes to boycott some or all of the Beijing Games are the same people who routinely pillory President George W. Bush for not following a policy of engagement with political foes.

Sen. John McCain has suggested President Bush reconsider his plans to attend the Olympic Games saying, "If Chinese policies and practices do not change, I would not attend the opening ceremonies."

Clinton we already know about.

Barack Obama skated on the issue first saying, according to the Agence France-Presse (AFP), "he was of 'two-minds' over whether the United States should play a full role in the Olympics, again citing Tibet and Darfur."

But upon, as NFL referees like to say, further review, Obama's folks realized he was the soft cheese standing along and so hardened his position saying: "If the Chinese do not take steps to help stop the genocide in Darfur and to respect the dignity, security, and human rights of the Tibetan people, then the president should boycott the opening ceremonies."

The people who get caught in the cross-fire of all this are the athletes. For a huge proportion of demonstrators against the Olympic Flame, their commitment to the protest was cutting their ten o'clock Poly Sci class.

The athletes, however have, in most cases, devoted the majority of their time on Earth preparing for these Games. If, having practiced for hours a day, every day, for years on end, an athlete decides that China's reluctance to help in Darfur or free Tibet is too much to overlook, then he or she has earned that right.

The pretension of politicians and protesters that anything China is doing today is any worse than it was doing in 2002 or 2003 or 2004 is at best, folly, and at worst, hypocrisy.