Somewhere in Beijing tonight, a bunch of crusty old Chinese Communist Party hacks are sitting down to a celebratory dinner, perhaps in front...
Somewhere in Beijing tonight, a bunch of crusty old Chinese Communist Party hacks are sitting down to a celebratory dinner, perhaps in front of a large banner, when translated, might sound familiar.
One of the great hopes for the Beijing Games was that the people of China, through the Games, would be exposed to a world that’s a lot less hostile and xenophobic than they have been led to believe.
And one of the greatest fears was that the Games would run so smoothly and efficiently, and create field-of-play highlights so memorable, that the larger picture in China would be ignored.
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Consider that fear realized.
As the Games begin to wind down, it is striking to consider that these Olympics have gone almost completely according to a script written by one of the world’s most-repressive totalitarian regimes — one that seems emboldened, not weakened, by its exposure to the world through the Games.
It’s laughable now to look back to 2001 and consider the naiveté of International Olympic Committee members who handed the Olympics to Beijing with the hope that China, like South Korea after the Seoul Games of 1992, would seize the occasion as a springboard to democratic reform.
The opposite seems true.
Fast forward to this week. As the world’s media argue whether Michael Phelps was greater than Mark Spitz or Jesse Owens, and whether softball should continue as a medal sport, the host nation is arresting old ladies, right in the shadow of the Olympic flame.
Two elderly Chinese women, aged 77 and 79, were notified this week they’ll be serving a yearlong sentence of “re-education through labor,” the son of one of them said. Their crime: Applying for a permit to use one of Beijing’s Olympic “protest zones” to stage an act of civil disobedience. For the record, none of 77 such permit applications has been granted. The Chinese government clearly never meant to allow dissent in its midst: It simply viewed the permits as a way to get gullible troublemakers to step forward. Another small step in the “March of the Volunteers,” if you will.
Not all of the Chinese government’s victims this week have been so willing. A group of pro-Tibetan protesters was arrested by Chinese paramilitary police on Wednesday. The group, including two Americans, has not been seen or heard from since. At the scene of this crime, Chinese government thugs roughed up, briefly detained and stripped the memory cards of wire-service photographers who documented the event.
All this in the host city of the Olympics. The same Chinese government that is trotting out young, smiling women in fine, silk dresses to hand out medals to the world’s swiftest, highest and strongest is punishing its own people for attempting to exercise basic human rights.
It’s shameful, and so is the complete absence of its mention in the course of NBC’s 3,600 hours of otherwise-breathless Beijing Games coverage.
Co-conspirators in this hijacking of the Olympic ideal are many, including those of us who watch at home, overlook the messenger, and mindlessly absorb the message, which is to drink Coke and drive a Chevy. But if you want to point to one guy, look no farther than Jacques Rogge.
Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, has been enabler in chief since the Games were awarded to Beijing at the 2001 IOC meeting at which he was elected to replace Juan Antonio Samaranch — himself something of a feckless go-along.
These Games have been Rogge’s baby. And we suspect history won’t have a lot of kind things to say about the former Belgian sailor’s parenting skills.
Rogge looks the other way at the abuse of innocent citizens beneath his nose because, he says, it is not a matter of sport. He pooh-poohs athletes’ concerns about their own lungs in Beijing’s filthy air. He refuses to lift a finger when a hero of the Olympic movement, former U.S. speed skater and current humanitarian activist Joey Cheek, is denied a visa to attend the Beijing Games.
Yet he possesses the gall to call out Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt’s youthful exuberance as being “unsportsmanlike” and transmitting a message not suited for his movement’s vaunted “youth of the world.”
It is instead Rogge who is a disgrace to the very tenets of the movement he purports to represent.
Rogge is, coincidentally, said to be considering his future role with the IOC in the wake of the great success — and in terms of cash on the barrelhead, it clearly is that — of the Beijing Games. It’s unclear, he says, whether he’ll run for the post in 2009.
Some heartfelt advice from people who truly care about what the Olympics are supposed to stand for: Don’t. There are many fitting places — especially in today’s world — for people who put pragmatism above principle. The head of the world’s Olympic movement is not one of them.