Any strong opinions out there about the upcoming Summer Olympics in Beijing? It’s been fascinating to watch the chaotic journey of the Olympic torch, how it’s been forced to take unexpected detours around the various protest rallies. Consequently, the flame’s relay through San Francisco earlier this week turned into a farce. The protests, of course, are against the Chinese government and its oppressive policies toward the Tibetans and its own citizens, as well as its failure to put pressure on its trade partner, Sudan, to stop the genocide in Darfur.
Was the International Olympic Committee (IOC) wrongheaded in awarding this year’s Games to China, given the country’s history of human rights violations? Would the same blinding, international spotlight have been turned on China — which is in the process of becoming the globe’s next great economic player — had it not been awarded the 2008 Games? The IOC claims to be nonpolitical, but do you think they were trying to be politically subversive in giving the Games to China? Or was it all about the money?
I confess to being easily stirred by the spirit of international unity that the Olympics try to engender, at least for a couple of weeks. I could probably do without NBC’s saccharine TV coverage of the athletes’ “very special” journeys to the Games. But I do marvel at the sight of people of all different colors, languages, and nationalities coming together in peace.
Ah, but there’s plenty to be cynical about as well. Did anyone hear Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford’s biting commentary about the Olympics on NPR’s Morning Edition this week? (You also can read it at SI.com.) He lays into the self-importance of the IOC and even suggests the Olympics have outlived their relevance:
Only the IOC still calls itself a movement and gets away with it. Hey, it’s no more than an international cartel that puts on a big show every four years. It’s just NASCAR with accents. And to tell you the truth, I think the Olympics are yesterday’s party. Once upon a time — before globalism and jet airplanes and cyberspace — bringing athletes together quadrennially in one place might have made sense. Today, it’s an unnecessary excess. And while insular Americans may not understand this, soccer’s World Cup has become much more important to many more people worldwide.
But, back to the China controversy, Deford isn’t all gloom and doom. He does hope the dedicated Olympic athletes are not punished as a result of this year’s politicized proceedings:
But hooray for all the Olympic athletes. Please, everybody, just threaten to boycott, but let the athletes all go to Beijing and have their day in the smog. It was so unfair when, in 1980, President Carter sacrificed our Olympians to make a point against the Soviet Union. But as the torch wends its way, spreading the bad news, I really think we might be seeing more than a censure of China. We may also be witness to the start of the Olympics’ real decline.
I love Frank Deford; he’s a virtuoso of the written word, the way Michael Jordan was with a basketball. Nonetheless, I think the Olympics can still be relevant. Who knows? Perhaps the Games in Beijing will lead to the ultimate undoing of the Chinese regime’s despotic ways. At the very least, maybe it will lead more people to be concerned about — and pray for — the oppressed and dying people of China, Tibet, and Darfur.