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Politics and the Beijing Olympics
by Graeme J. Davidson,
19 April 2008

Politics is the lifeblood of the Olympics. Despite the Olympic Charter stating the Games are contests between individuals or teams “and not between countries,” athletes represent nations and rival political ideologies.

....Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, believed “the most important thing is not to win but to take part". In the 1920s, American sports writer Grantland Rice echoed this: “it’s not that you won or lost - but how you played the game". We use quotes like that when athletes lose.
.... But let’s face it, the Olympics aren’t really about playing or taking part. Remember Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards, Britain’s amateur ski jumper at the 1988 Winter Olympics? The worse he did the more we loved him, but the authorities were not amused and upped the entrance requirements to eliminate such losers. To be consistent, why not change the Olympic motto of “swifter, higher, stronger" to that of 1950s American football coach Henry Sanders: “Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing"?
.... To help make the 2008 Games in August a winner for China, Beijing is repressing dissidents at home and trying to deflect protests over its human rights abuses by promoting a politics-free Olympics
.

.... Politics is the lifeblood of the Olympics. Despite the Olympic Charter stating the Games are contests between individuals or teams “and not between countries,” athletes represent nations and rival political ideologies. We want our athletes to step onto the winner’s podium in our national colours to the sound of our national anthem so that we, as a free democratic nation, can bask in their glory. That’s why government, business and other interest groups spend up large to promote elite athletes. Hitler used the 1936 Munich Olympics to showcase the Nazi belief in Aryan superiority, and the USA and the USSR vied for medal tallies to show who was the greatest during the Cold War.
.... That puts pressure on athletes to make winning the only thing, and if they win we worship them as demigods. And when they are caught cheating or fail miserably, they become pariahs. Greeks felt humiliated when their superheroes Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou failed to show for a drug test and then withdrew from the 2004 Athens Games. Her teammates – and the rest of Australia - were angry with Sally Robbins for stopping rowing during the final of the Women’s Eight.
.... The Olympic Charter bans any kind of “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda”. Yet, Cathy Freeman was allowed to display the Aboriginal flag to highlight the plight of the Stolen Generations after she won at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. What if a Tibetan athlete displays a Tibetan flag at the Beijing Olympics to draw attention to a “stolen country”? We’d expect Chinese authorities to treat it as a security breach, punish him or her and blame the Dalai Lama.
.... To get the Games China promised improvements in human rights. Yet, when Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, reminded Beijing of this and added, “the events in Tibet are a matter of great concern to the IOC,” Beijing told him to keep politics out of the Games. Human Rights Watch says the Olympics have provoked a wave of oppression in China and that “over the past two decades, the Chinese government has chronically restricted basic freedoms, including those of association, expression, and religious practice”. Then, there are those who object to China’s role in the Darfur conflict, its support for the military rulers in Myanmar, as well as the brutal crackdown in Tibet.
.... Political boycotts of the Olympics are not new. African countries shunned the 1976 Montreal Games as a protest against our All Blacks playing rugby in apartheid South Africa. Western countries avoided the 1980 Moscow Games because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and, four years later, Eastern Bloc countries retaliated against the Los Angeles Olympics.
.... Human rights groups have called on world leaders to protest China’s abuse of human rights by boycotting the opening ceremony in Beijing. Despite our free trade deal with China, let’s hope our leaders have the ethical conviction to stay away and that our athletes – and we – will wholeheartedly support them.

 

 

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