China’s Olympic Gamble

I really like the Olympics …. as a concept, it is second to none: every four years, lets have the whole world chill, stop fighting, and spend two weeks vegging in front of a TV while we cheer on great athletes. Pierre de Coubertin, I commend you on bringing such a bold idea into the world.

As with many great ideas, implementing them into the real world is seldom without little snags, and often times very big ones ….. for every triumphant moment ….. like seeing a unified Korean team walk in to an opening ceremonies together …… for every Jesse Owens moment …… for every unbelievable performance like the 1980 Hockey miracle and someone like Rulon Gardner accomplishing the seeming impossible, there are boycotts (1976, 1980, 1984), there are out and out cheats (Marion Jones, the officials at the 1972 mens Olympic Basketball finals), and there are those who choose to take a stand (some of which are even principled). I won’t even go into the lowlife scum who decide to take hostages or plant bombs. Nonetheless, the Olympics have survived two world wars, being hosted by Adolph Hitler and Leonid Brezhnev, and a host of other international cataclisms. They will go on, because, at their heart when you sweep away the sponsorship and TV deals and politics, the Olympics are as good an idea today as they were in 1896.

This takes us to China.

In 1980, the United States and many western European nations boycotted the Olympics in Moscow in protest over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Brezhenev should have been first in line to thank President Carter. The Soviets got to have their cake and eat a whole lot more! They got the Olympics, and got to still control everything without the scary possibility have having their nation overrun by a bunch of outsiders and their crazy ideas about freedom of the press, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion ….. that would have been a PR nightmare in the Soviet Union, as they couldn’t have cracked down too hard, and would have had to stand there and take it. It might have even sped up the already apparent disintegration of the Soviet system.

China could have taken a lesson from that …… China certainly has always allowed tourists in to their country. But once you are there, you are under their law, and you pay the penalty if you step out of line. But with the Olympics, its hard to preach international tolerance and friendship while ushering a few hundred European and American protesters into a jail cell. It is a big step for the Chinese to let the door creak open for the world, while hoping their nation doesn’t change too much.

The protests over Tibet, and how demonstrators in that region have been treated are certainly justifiable. While no nation has a perfect human rights record (including my home country), the Chinese are pretty rotten on this front. That being said, will these protests end up backfiring?

I do enjoy my sports, but I know enough that sports do not even come close to equating with human rights. Even something as grand and hopeful as the Olympics takes a back seat to those issues. I have heard people say that the protesters should stop, and let the games be played. I would disagree, IF (big if here) I thought that protests would work to make the changes they hope to make. Sadly, I am not only sure that these protests ultimately won’t work to free Tibet or save Tibetan culture, but in fact may have the opposite effect.

If nothing happens in Tibet in 2008, and hordes of foreigners swarm in to China for the Games, does China get a push away from totalitarianism? I would like to think maybe. It may not be huge …. it may not be much. But it might be something. On the other hand, now that China is being villified (and again, justifiably so), is that an excuse for the Chinese to reject any changes or exposure to attitude that comes with the welcoming of so many foreigners? I think it could be the beginning of a massive victim-complex that could in the long run push China back the way it came.

I have, sadly, only scratched the surface in studying a little about China’s history and culture, and wish I had time to learn more ….. it is a nation and a people on par with any of the great civilizations on Earth. I hope for the day that China is a free nation, and would also like to see nothing more than the Tibetan people free to choose their path without influence from outside. I hope that the upcoming Olympics in Beijing will nudge China down that road. I also hope that protests, as well meaning, well intended, and justified as they may be, do not take away from that.


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