It's all political

  • April 17, 2008

{mosimage}China, the International Olympic Committee and diehard Olympic supporters continue to repeat the mantra that we should leave politics out of the Olympic Games. Since when? we might ask.

While the various parties mentioned above continue to deplore the protests surrounding the Olympic Torch relay taking place around the globe, the crackdown on dissent in Tibet continues. Censorship of all media in China has been ratcheted up several levels, while the Chinese propaganda mills continue to give their captive audiences a highly selective account of how their hosting of this summer’s Games is being greeted in foreign lands.

This year, the Olympic Games are high politics indeed. The torch relay has descended into chaos while political leaders are rushing to distance themselves from the Games. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had already announced that he would not attend the opening ceremonies (though he insisted it wasn’t because of Tibet), while British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was not far behind. Others, such as France’s President Nicholas Sarkozy and U.S. President George Bush, are still deliberating.

So it is political, like it or not. And, really, it has been ever thus. Every host country has played politics with the Olympics — as has every host country’s rivals. In 1936, Nazi Germany used the Olympics as a platform to brag about its supposedly superior Aryan society. During the Cold War, both the United States and the Soviet Union used the Olympics as a proxy for diplomatic duelling.

And until the recent debacle in Tibet, the government of China was poised to turn the Olympics into a highly polished paean of praise to China and its Communist government. No expense had been spared to clean up Beijing and present to the world a fresh, triumphant Chinese face — all the while ignoring or denying its gross violation of human rights and freedoms.

Just because every country exploits the Olympics does not excuse the practice. Yes, it is deplorable. By the same token, however, governments that exploit the Olympics when it plays them a good hand cannot cry foul when they are dealt lousy cards.

And no one should be surprised by China’s cards. From the moment China received approval to host the Games, the choice was greeted with consternation. This is a country that has an entirely different take on what human rights are all about. It has a government that sees organized religion as a dangerous rival for the people’s faith (probably rightly, considering the intellectual bankruptcy of communism) and thus keeps it under tight surveillance and control. It is a country that routinely blacks out huge portions of normal news from the world wide web so that its own people have no access to information the rest of the world takes for granted.

In an ideal world, perhaps politics and world athletic competitions should not mix. But in our world, far from ideal, China deserves to reap what it has sown.

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