Reader Request Week 2008 #8: Politics and the Olympics
Are the Olympics purely a sports contest, or do international politics enter into the equation at some level? Should a country boycott the Olympics because China is mean to Tibet?
Clearly international politics enter into the equation, and have for some time. In 1976 a bunch of African countries boycotted the Olympics to protest New Zealand’s participation (New Zealand played competitive sports with South Africa, which was under apartheid at the time); in 1980 the US and several dozen other countries boycotted the Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; in 1984 the USSR and some of its client states boycotted the Olympics in Los Angeles because apparently the USSR thought the US was a big meanie. So it goes.
Should a country boycott the Olympics in Beijing because China oppresses Tibet and/or its own people? Sure; I think if you’re going to have a boycott, that’s a perfectly valid reason to do so. Should a country be obliged to boycott the Olympics for those reasons? No, because any savvy country could reel off good realpolitik reasons to engage China via the Olympics. Whether one feels those reasons hold water is another question altogether, mind you. But we all do what we do to get through the night.
I’m irritated with the IOC about this year’s Olympics mostly because I’m flummoxed how they couldn’t see all this coming. What? Give an autocratic government an Olympics and suddenly everyone’s up in arms about its human rights abuses? Who knew that could happen?!? Yes, well. Surprise, assholes. I suppose the thinking here was that giving the Olympics to Beijing would spur the country into being friendly and open and whatnot, but if China were a person, it would be a type-A controlling paranoid with a handgun and a tendency to blame “enemies” when under stress. Enemies like, you know, the dog and five-year-old. I do believe that China should be encouraged to see the benefits of being more politically free, and as it happens I do believe that engagement with the country should happen. Like Nixon, I would go to China. However, I don’t think giving Beijing a tight summer 2008 deadline to build billions of dollars worth of construction, clean up the chewy particulate soup that is Beijing’s air, and prepare its country for the harsh critical gaze of every other country in the world was really the smartest way to do that. I could be wrong here; I don’t pretend to be an expert on China. But on this end of things, it certainly does look like they’re getting a little implody.
That said, I would like to hope that someone sits China down, gives it a reassuring hug to let it know it’s all going to be okay, and talks it off that ledge it’s on, so it can focus on finishing up its Olympic plans without crushing all those who oppose it, and so the athletes who come to visit during the summer don’t feel like they now have an inkling what it was like to compete in the 1936 Summer Olympics. I would like China to succeed, and for the Olympics to actually be a sporting event, not a political football. We’ll see if that happens.
(there’s still time to ask questions for Reader Request Week 2008: Post your question here.)