04 April 2008

Bashing Beijing (and Olympic glory)

As the Olympics approach, and the torch relay wends its weary way toward Beijing for the Games opening August 8th, we will continue to hear about human rights protests over China's treatment of Tibet. For an institution that is supposed to bring the world together, the Olympics seems to serve as a lightning rod for division.

The Games put host countries front and centre on the world stage, and that of course is why they want them, for the prestige, to show their credentials as nations to be taken seriously. Olympic spokespeople insist it's all about sports, but of course it isn't. The athletes are merely the instruments. Host cities don't expound on the joys of fencing and shot-putting, they talk about putting themselves on the map. And surely no one believes the Chinese politburo is spending those billions of yuan because they are in love with sport. Dictatorships from Nazi Germany to Communist China have taken full advantage of Olympic glory to establish the legitimacy of their regimes.

So what are human rights advocates to do when an influential international organization assists a brutal tyranny in promoting itself? Sit idly by? Quite naturally, and quite rightly, they are going to take advantage of centre stage themselves. They will do what they can to shame the tyrant into behaving as a responsible member of the human community. Trouble-makers they may be, but the Olympics and their despotic friends richly deserve them.

Nonetheless, The athletes have been promised their day in the sun. The Games must go on. And so must the protests.

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