Thursday, February 28, 2008

Olympics...what I really meant to say.

I keep seeing protests in the news. Protests at the site of the Vancouver Olympics which are coming up in 2010. The native protesters in Vancouver want one thing, and that is to create awareness of the fact that the land upon which the Olympics will be held was stolen from them. Of course, so was the rest of the land in Canada, but it is still a valid point and a reasonable protest. However, there is not much they can do except create awareness. And so they have. Well done, mission accomplished, keep it up. It's not like they will get the Olympics to switch venues, it's not like they will create any actual change, but if awareness is the goal, then they have certainly done what they set out to do. However, I have seen very little protest over the Olympics coming up, this year, in China. Of course, it isn't Canada, and we're going to see a little less of that protest here than we are our own homegrown protest. But what have I really heard about it? Steven Spielberg has pulled out of the pre-Olympic production because of China's human-rights history. That's about it.

There is a fantastic article at the end of last week's Sports Illustrated. It's written by S.L. Price, and it's basically an indictment of new IOC head Jacques Rogge for never speaking out about the issue. China's bid for the Olympics was accepted based on the expectation that they would improve their human rights record in the years leading up to the event, and during the event, and the years following the event. This has not been done. It has been seven years since China was awarded the 2008 Olympics, and if anything, they have become worse. In their zeal to appear squeaky-clean to the world during this massive event, they have imprisoned at least 25 journalists and 49 bloggers who have dared to speak out against the Chinese government. Of course, in the world of today, we can find out about this. All we need is the ol' internet. And so the "world" knows all about this. And yet? Nothing. I hear nothing. In 1980, the Americans led a boycott of the Moscow Olympics as a protest of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. (And, really, just an extension of the cold war.) Has any country talked about boycotting these Olympics?

No. The main reason being this: China is now one of the biggest, most influential economies in the world. And they are only going to get bigger over the next few years. And what country would boycott these games, risking the wrath of the Chinese, and by extension risking future trading opportunities with this booming country? None. Not only that, but several countries have forced their athletes to sign contracts banning them from making any kind of political statements while they are in China. One of those countries was Great Britain, which then had to recant the contracts when public outcry made that position untenable. Can you imagine other countries doing this in past years? Jesse Owens in Berlin - that moment is gone. Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968? Gone. These are some of the most powerful moments in Olympic history, and they would be censored. Not even by the Chinese, who seem willing to censor just about everything, but by their own countries!

When the Olympics were held in Seoul in 1988, South Korea had been given a similar ultimatum. And the Koreans complied. They became a better country, and they held their most successful election ever just before the games began. China has not done the same. And I can just imagine the glossing-over that is going to be done in this country. When we watch this on TV, we are going to see Scott Armitage and Chris Cuthbert and James Duthie and their ilk doing fluff pieces all over China. Here is a really neat temple. And here is the Great Wall, which is still breathtaking. And here I am in a genuine junk on the river! No offense to those particular broadcasters, but I don't think their bosses will let them do anything more than that. China has said that it will not censor anything at all when the foreign reporters arrive in their country for the Olympics this year. That may be so. Maybe not. But I don't think it matters. I don't think there's any Olympic broadcast outlet in Canada that has the balls to put the real China on TV.

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