Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Beijing in '08: No Issue Irrelevant

Today's “World News” section of the Washington Post contained an article on the Chinese government’s attempt to disassociate all international political controversies involving the People’s Republic of China from the Beijing Olympics. As reported in the article, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in the United States, “argued against efforts by activists to link participation in the Beijing-based 2008 Summer Olympics to China’s handling of Burma,” calling the issue of Burma and other regions such as Darfur “irrelevant.”

Our message to the PRC?
Good luck with that.

It would seem that the import of hosting the Olympic Games, the quadrennial international match of skill, dexterity and strength that dates back to ancient Greece, was lost on the folks in Beijing when they put in their bid for ’08. Let us look at some of the reasons why it is folly to believe that a host country’s diplomatic posture should not be altered; can even avoid alteration, during the run-up and actual passage of the Games:

1) The Olympics are about humanity.
Hosting the Olympics is a terribly attractive prospect for any government, because the successful preparation for the Olympic Games and the cultural events and security apparatus that come along with them represents an excellent chance for a government to exhibit its logistical, economic, and visionary capabilities, while at the same time displaying before the world the unique cultural identity of its citizens.
Yet along with this privilege comes great responsibility. As the world’s all-inclusive global sporting event, in their most basic sense the Olympic Games are about humankind testing of the capacities and physical limits of the human body. They are about the strength and vigor of our species. So the question the “live” or at-home spectator will inevitably ask about the host country when humanity itself is so prominently being paraded before the world public is, “What has this country done for the betterment of humanity lately?” In the case of China under the leadership of the PRC government the answer is, of course, “nothing much.”

2) The Olympics are also about equality.
The Olympics—unlike the United Nations these days—are inextricably founded upon the principle that all may participate. It is the reason the Jamaicans famously once placed a bobsled team in competition. It is also the reason why even athletes from a country as isolated as Taiwan are not and cannot be prohibited from competing on an athletically—if not politically—equal playing field with athletes from everywhere else. The Games are based on the premise that we are equal and born with inherent gifts and abilities, and that those among us with the greatest athletic abilities have the right, even the duty, to compete with their peers to push the physical limits of human strength and endurance.

3) ergo: the Olympics are about democracy.
It is no coincidence that the tradition of the Olympic Games originated in the Greek city-state remembered as the world’s first democracy. The Olympics are inherently democratic. During the Games, athletes and fans depart from every corner of the globe to converge on a single venue—to meet one another and test their common strength, weakness, and mettle via controlled competition. Ideas are exchanged, philosophies are expounded through the language of sport, and all are invited to participate. Humankind’s strength is reaffirmed through the celebration of both teamwork and individuality. These factors were no less intrinsic and valuable at the first Olympics in ancient Athens, although to the Athenians of the day the world was much, much smaller.

These three statements—that the Olympics are about humanity, equality, and therefore democracy—are, of course, rather idealistic in nature. But if there is one thing that is so blatantly obvious about the Olympics that might as well be taped to the bottom of a frying pan and repeatedly banged over one’s head, it is that these Games are about ideals. They have always been about a ideals, they always will be, and any nation that plans to host the Games should understand that its government, culture, and people will be scrutinized through the lens of those ideals. It is our personal belief that, in the case of China, the culture and the people will stand admirably up to Olympic scrutiny. China’s government on the other hand, will likely be found in relation to these ideals tragically lacking.

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