SBD/Issue 219/Olympics

Did IOC Make The Correct Call In Awarding Games To Beijing?

The question looming as China prepares for Friday’s Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Games is whether the IOC “made the right bet or took too lightly the possibility that protests or unforeseen events could divide rather than unite the nations whose athletes are gathering in Beijing,” according to Jere Longman of the N.Y. TIMES. The IOC “faces criticism -- from without and within -- for relying too much on chance and not enough on leverage in trying to hold Chinese leaders to their amorphous statements about change.” IOC President Jacques Rogge “has given wildly divergent responses to the human rights issue, saying that he was engaging in ‘silent diplomacy,’ before switching tactics under pressure and publicly reminding the Chinese authorities that they pledged to use the Olympics ‘to advance the social agenda of China, including human rights.’” Rogge has been “ill at ease in defining the IOC as both a political lobby and a sports organization.” Canadian IOC member Dick Pound said that the organization “did not sufficiently use its influence in setting markers for the Chinese to achieve on some issues, especially press freedoms during the Games.” Pound: “We probably should have said, 'Here are some minimum things we do need.'” However, Pound said awarding the Olympics to Beijing was a “risk worth taking. The Games will be well delivered. You hope good will come from it. I don’t think any closed country that has hosted the Olympic Games has been the same thereafter. It can’t be” (N.Y. TIMES, 8/3).

China Using Bird's Nest As Focal Point
In Country's Olympic Coming Out Party
COMING OUT PARTY: In DC, Thomas Boswell wrote the Olympics will be “remembered as a worldwide multi-week debate on the historic experiment that evolved by accident [in China] over the past 25 years.” There will be “two entirely different Olympics -- one about sport, splendor and profit; the other about China’s impact on 21st-century politics and economics. The stakes are that high” (WASHINGTON POST, 8/3). N.Y. TIMES' PLAY magazine’s Tom Scocca writes the Olympics are “meant to mark Beijing’s transformation from a grim, dusty, totalitarian capital to a glittering international destination.” The “maximalist preparations -- the most avant-garde stadium ever! The biggest volunteer corps! The most numerous cartoon mascots! -- are part of an even grander makeover of the entire city, as a symbol of a nation transformed into a center of prosperity and influence in the new century” (PLAY, 8/ ’08 issue). In K.C., Mechelle Voepel wrote from the “perspective of size, cultural differences, political issues and media presence, this will be an Olympics measured on a scale like no other” (K.C. STAR, 8/2). In N.Y., George Vecsey writes China “sought these Games as a major step in its coming-out party, and now China will be tested in front of the world -- no retreating behind walls, no slogans, no long marches. China is here to stay” (N.Y. TIMES, 8/4).

CENTER STAGE: A FINANCIAL TIMES editorial states, “Any mishap that points to a wider flaw in the Chinese system -- pollution over Beijing, heavy-handed policing -- will be highlighted remorselessly by the world’s media.” The Olympics “might have been designed to showcase some of the most impressive aspects of today’s China -- modernity, wealth, achievement. But the games are also an event that could bring out the worst in China: paranoia, nationalism, control-freakery” (FINANCIAL TIMES, 8/4). In Detroit, Tom Watkins writes, “It seems likely that there will be some level of disruption to the games by people who want to call attention to China’s record on such issues as human rights, Tibet, Darfur, the environment, unfair trade practices and treatment of the Fulan Gong.” While the Olympics “should be devoid of politics, they never have been. Yet the ideal of bringing the world together on peaceful terms has never been more important” (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 8/4).

BROKEN PROMISES: A WASHINGTON POST editorial is written under the header, “The Security Olympics. China Shows The World Its Model For A 21st-Century Police State.” China is emerging as an “unapologetic autocracy that censors the Internet, imprisons nonviolent domestic critics and bulldozes anything or anyone deemed to be in the way of a state-orchestrated showcase.” And the IOC “has meekly gone along with Beijing’s violation of its promises” (WASHINGTON POST, 8/3). A SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE editorial is written under the header, “Fiasco Olympics? Broken Promises, Bullying Bode Ill For Beijing.” There has been “no evolution toward a more open society,” and the Beijing Games are “at least as likely to set back China’s image as help it” (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 8/4). A SAN GABRIEL VALLEY TRIBUNE editorial stated while the Chinese government “can’t order the skies to clear,” they “can stick to their agreements.” But instead, they have "continued to clamp down on the freedom of information in every which way” (SAN GABRIEL VALLEY TRIBUNE, 8/3). A PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER editorial stated the hope is that the Olympics “will help make China freer. But its actions to date show how hard that will be” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 8/3). DAILY VARIETY’s Clifford Coonan notes after “days of negative publicity for failing to meet its promises to be more open for the Games … Beijing is trying to balance the need to give some leeway to its critics with fears that it could be embarrassed by protest groups out to make a point” (DAILY VARIETY, 8/4). Three different public protest zones have been set up by BOCOG, but Chicago Tribune Beijing bureau chief Evan Osnos said, “There’s a difference saying there are protest areas, and then, in fact, allowing people to protest there without consequences” (“Today,” NBC, 8/4).

IOC Catching Heat For China Blocking
Media's Access To Certain Web Sites
IOC TO BLAME? In S.F., Gwen Knapp wrote if the Games “go badly, the Olympic movement will take a harder hit than the Chinese government.” Last week’s “revelation of online censorship and the Chinese organizers’ sense of entitlement about it suggested a spectacular breakdown.” The IOC “may have steered its hosts back on course, but for how long?” The principal of free speech “should have been ingrained in the organizers years ago.” The “hard line about where TV cameras can go should have blurred by now. But the IOC has failed. It has been neutered in its relationship with China” (S.F. CHRONICLE, 8/3). The WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Joseph Sternberg writes under the header, “Olympics, Inc.” The IOC “appears unfazed by this blatant promise-breaking.” Rogge “refused to apologize for the censorship. It’s all in stark contract to the noble ideals the Olympics are supposed to represent.” Sternberg: “Treat the [IOC] as the business it is, tax it, and let it get on with the very big business of running a major global sporting event” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 8/4). In Atlanta, Jeff Schultz wrote under the header, “IOC Can’t Run Away From Responsibility, Blame.” China is “not going to change its government just because the Olympics are there for 17 days.” What “we’re seeing now is massive global spin by one of the world’s most disingenuous and corrupt outfits,” the IOC. Attempting to keep politics out of the Olympics is a “noble but futile endeavor” (, 8/1). A Riverside PRESS-ENTERPRISE editorial stated the IOC “should avoid awarding the games to countries that treat citizens and visitors alike as prison inmates” (Riverside PRESS-ENTERPRISE, 8/2). In Philadelphia, Steve Friess wrote, “Nobody should be surprised … that things are not as the Chinese promised they would be.” The “most frustrating part is that we knew this was how it was going to be” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 8/3). A Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW editorial stated, “History should have taught the IOC never to pass its torch to countries that are determined to extinguish the human spirit” (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 8/3).

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