Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Willem Alexander, the Prince of Orange and "critical" member of the International Olympic Committee has said today []
the torch relay has become a target for protests, is not part of the original Olympic tradition and is extremely costly.

He said the torch should only be carried round Greece, the home of the Olympics, and the country hosting the event. This was, he said, the original practice.

Demonstrations against China's treatment of Tibet during this year’s relay has meant that the torch, which is supposed to be ‘a symbol of hope’, has become ‘a target for protest’, prince Willem-Alexander told the Telegraaf.

The huge media interest in the relay makes it an ideal target for protests, he said. He added that the reinstatement of the old tradition would protect the Olympic symbol from destruction.

Commenting on the human rights situation in China, the prince said that sport and politics should not be mixed. ‘Sport should always stand above politics. That's not to say that I see the world in black and white.

'The Olympic spirit is about promoting brotherhood and to do that, athletes from around the world should be able to travel to the games without any problems.
The prince's remarks are commendable, but he is partly right.

Here's something else to think about, relatedly:
"It is funny that we boycotted the 1980 Games [in Moscow] in support of Afghanistan, and now we're bombing Afghanistan." - Carl Lewis, winner of nine Olympic gold medals, accusing George Bush of exploiting the Athens Games [in 2004] for his own political advantage. (h/t Left I.)

And we're still there, and will continue to be there, if a future President Obama has his way.

And although the Dutch have reservations about their continued support of their role in the US-led Afghan mission, at the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics, The Netherlands [Wikipedia]
did not fully participate in the American-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in protest over the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan, but the Dutch athletes did boycott the Opening Ceremony, and the Olympic Flag was used in place of Netherlands' national flag at medal ceremonies.
The Dutch could probably do the same in Beijing this summer.
But as Sally Jenkins writes earlier this week [Washington Post]
Athletes are threatening to skip the Opening Ceremonies because they're afraid the environment of the host city will sicken them or compromise their medal chances, and distance runner Haile Gebrselassie dropped out of the marathon because the fumes are too heavy for him to run that distance.
Nothing about China's human rights abuses.

The torch is making its way around China before entering Beijing. It has passed through the recent earthquake-ravished areas. And yet, there are clandestine protests about the Chinese government's slowness in answering questions about the aftermath of the earthquake.

And here's what the prince said [my emphasis]:
the torch relay has become a target for protests, is not part of the original Olympic tradition and is extremely costly.
Costly to whom?

Jenkins [again, my emphasis] continues
So what is this Olympics really about? It's about 12 major corporations and their panting ambitions to tap into China's 1.3 billion consumers, the world's third-largest economy. Understand this: The International Olympic Committee is nothing more than a puppet for its corporate "partners," without whom there would be no Games. These major sponsors pay the IOC's bills for staging the Olympics to the tune of $7 billion per cycle. Without them, and their designs on the China market, Beijing probably would not have won the right to host the Summer Games.

Seven years ago, in controversially awarding the Games to the Chinese regime, the IOC assured us that a Beijing Games would be both beneficial and benevolent, and promote a more open society. Chinese officials, too, vowed that the Games would not only foster their economy but "enhance all social conditions, including education, health and human rights."

The clouded air is just the most observable sign of the many unfulfilled promises since then. If the society has opened somewhat, there has also been a specific crackdown on dissidents as a direct result of the Olympics. Thousands of people have been rounded up and jailed for expressing dissent -- right now a man named Hu Jia is in a prison just outside Beijing for "inciting subversion" because he testified via Webcam before the European Union that the Chinese government wasn't living up to its Olympic commitments. Hu is ill with hepatitis B and undergoing "reform" in Chaobai prison, while his family is under constant surveillance. The crackdown continued this week with the jailing of several farmers, and efforts to censor the Olympic media. Amnesty International estimates that half a million people are being held without charges here.

Anyone who believed the Chinese government would use the Olympics as an opportunity to become a human rights beacon and environmental model was either softheaded, or lying. Capitalism is not the same thing as democracy. China's interest then and now was the consolidation of state power via economics. The government is merely behaving as it always has.

But the bad air here has shown the IOC and its commercial sponsors in an especially ugly and damning light. They have been conspicuous cowards in dealing with Chinese officials, and maybe even outright collaborators, on every issue from human rights to the environment to censorship. The silence of IOC President Jacques Rogge in the face of the continuing dissident sweeps amounts to complicity. "In view of my responsibilities, I have lost some of my freedom of speech," he said last week. Rogge's idea of a solution to the thorny problems of these Games is to hope "the magic" will take over once they begin.

Most disgraceful of all is the fact that six of the 12 worldwide Olympic partners are American companies. This has to heart-sicken any patriot. These companies will reap the full exposure of the Summer Games, swathing themselves in the flag, and rationalizing that their business is helping uplift the Chinese people. Don't buy it -- or them. You should know exactly who they are: General Electric (which owns NBC), Coca-Cola, Visa, McDonald's, Kodak, and Johnson & Johnson. (The others are Canadian-based Manulife Financial; Lenovo, the Chinese personal computer maker; the French information technology services company Atos Origin; the Swiss watch manufacturer Omega; Panasonic; and Samsung.) When these acquiesced to the Chinese government's crackdown, and effectively accepted the censorship of the press during these Games, they fell into a special category of profiteers that Franklin Delano Roosevelt described in his "Four Freedoms" speech.

"We must especially beware of that small group of selfish men who would clip the wings of the American eagle in order to feather their own nests," Roosevelt said.

It's plain that the Chinese people have worked mightily to create a beautiful Beijing Games, from the elegantly manicured gardens to the whisked-clean streets, and that they are a source of immense national pride. No one could wish to injure that pride, and every one wishes them a successful Games. But the Olympics are not solely about the host, they are about all the participating nations, and the common goal of "preservation of human dignity." The moment it became apparent that the Beijing Olympics was causing a crackdown, and that basic Olympic values were being constricted rather than expanded, these Olympic partners should have spoken out, and threatened to withdraw if abuses didn't halt. When they didn't, it cast a permanent pall over these Games. Like the air here, the Olympic movement is struggling for a clean breath.


  1. I'm boycotting the Olympics. Spectator sports are less important than human rights and economic exploitation.

  2. libhom, I am, too. I've not been interested in them for many years.

  3. And I lost interest in the Olympics when the IOC opened it up to professional athletes. It ain't the same anymore.


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