SBD/Issue 222/Olympics

USOC, Seeking To Appease China, Neglects To Rally Behind Athletes

USOC Receives Criticism For Stance
Taken Over China Revoking Cheek's Visa
USOC leaders "apparently are so determined to advance Chicago's 2016 Games bid that they will do anything to avoid offending their Chinese hosts, even if that means throwing U.S. Olympians, past and present, under the bus," according to the CHICAGO TRIBUNE's Philip Hersh, who writes under the header, "USOC's Wobbly Stance: American Officials Try Hard To Please Chinese Hosts, Even At The Expense Of One Of Their Own Beacons." The "backdrop to the USOC's stance" is a "combination of antipathy toward the Bush administration, a haughty insistence that the Olympics depend entirely on U.S. sponsorship money and intermittent USOC scandals lasting until 2003 that undermined [N.Y.'s] already vainglorious attempt to win the 2012 Games." The USOC "badly needs the money and interest another Olympics in the U.S. would generate, so it will make whatever compromises are needed to bolster Chicago's bid." After the Chinese government Tuesday revoked the visa of U.S. Gold Medal-winning speed skater and human rights group Team Darfur co-Founder Joey Cheek, USOC officials yesterday dismissed the move as a "matter between the Chinese government and a private citizen." USOC CEO Jim Scherr "showed no outrage over China's decision to revoke Cheek's visa," nor did the USOC "pledge to help get Cheek into China other than to say it has asked the U.S. Embassy for information." And "image protection meant the USOC immediately tried to distance itself from the pollution-mask controversy cause when four of its cyclists wore the masks upon arrival Tuesday in Beijing" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 8/7). In California, Scott Reid wrote it "should also come as no surprise the [USOC] wasted no time in throwing Cheek under the bus." Cheek is an "obvious threat to global security. Or at least to the USOC and Chicago's aspirations to host [the] Olympics in 2016. The USOC doesn't want or need an American hero rocking the boat while it tries to keep Chicago's pipedream afloat" (OCREGISTER.com, 8/6).

ABANDONED MAN: USA TODAY's Christine Brennan, on Scherr's "lukewarm defense of Cheek," writes, "No 'We stand with Joey.' Not a hint of 'He's ours, and he's to be lauded for his efforts.' No, just Citizen Cheek." Brennan adds, "The USOC is not a political organization, but it does represent a country of many freedoms, and it must do better than that in the next 2 1/2 weeks." The USOC leaders "would do well to follow the example of the U.S. athletes," who chose track and field athlete Lopez Lomong to carry the U.S. flag at tomorrow's Opening Ceremony. Lomong, a Sudanese refugee, is a member of Team Darfur (USA TODAY, 8/7). A USA TODAY editorial states the USOC "shamefully failed to speak out for Cheek. ... Instead, it said the matter was 'between this government and Joey as a private citizen'" (USA TODAY, 8/7). In West Palm Beach, Hal Habib writes of the Cheek controversy, "Give the USOC some credit for asking the U.S. embassy to look into it." But "why not stand up for Cheek publicly? Why distance yourself by saying he's not with us?" USOC Chair Peter Ueberroth: "We're not anybody's State Department. We're not trying to change the world. If we can work more toward world peace, it'll be somehow wrapped in the Olympic flag." Meanwhile, Habib adds the USOC's handling of the U.S. cyclists wearing masks was "as curious as its non-reaction to the treatment" of Cheek. Athletes "had been told they could wear the masks if they were concerned about Beijing's smog," and they "still are being told they're free to wear them if they like." Habib: "To listen to USOC and [IOC] officials, the smog situation isn't a problem" (PALM BEACH POST, 8/7).

Writer Feels Ueberroth's Comments
Made Him Sound Like BOCOG Pitchman
NOT ROCKING THE BOAT: SI.com's Selena Roberts wrote USOC officials are "all but sitting on the knee of the host city, in ventriloquist doll pose, issuing talking points made in China." USOC execs have "said exactly what Beijing organizers wanted them to say until it was actually un-American." The Olympics are "not a masquerade ball where every country dresses up like propaganda tools and plays along with the host's ideology for 17 days." So why then did Ueberroth "sound like a pitch man for the new China's old ways?" One reason for the USOC to "play nice with China" is the "fear of retribution for criticizing the Beijing Games." The U.S. already is "on edge about the medal count, knowing they could fall short of expectations and short of China, and would not want to compromise the outcome of any event by agitating the hosts" (SI.com, 8/6). Ueberroth yesterday said, "We're not here as politicians ... and it's not our job." In Dallas, Kate Hairopoulos writes under the header, "USOC Playing The Diplomatic Game." Hairopoulos: "Of all the things we Americans find difficult to stomach in China, our own [USOC's] diplomacy may be hardest of all" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 8/7). In Denver, Scott Monserud writes the USOC is "clearly wishing to not upset their host" (DENVER POST, 8/7).

CHEEK ON CHEEK: Cheek has been making the media rounds since his visa was revoked. NBC's Meredith Vieira said, "I assume that the Chinese government would feel that you’re almost poking it in the eye with a stick bringing this up now during the Olympics.” Cheek replied, “Certainly, I’m sure that’s the way they feel, but I think it’s actually part of a much broader effort. … There’s no mandate for (Team Darfur athletes) to speak out about China’s connection (to Darfur).” He added Team Darfur has "always followed the absolute letter of the law when it comes to IOC rules" ("Today," NBC, 8/7). Cheek said the fact his visa was denied is "more evidence of a much deeper and more systemic effort by the Chinese government to silence any form of criticism." Cheek said that "more worrisome ... was recent word that four Beijing-bound athletes 'had been told by their national Olympic committees that if they remain part of Team Darfur they will be treated as suspect individuals in China, subject to extra security procedures and scrutiny'" (L.A. TIMES, 8/7). Cheek added, "My visa being revoked is actually sort of endemic of a much broader effort by China to silence anyone before they even come to the Olympics. So that I find gravely concerning” ("World News," ABC, 8/6). More Cheek: "Clearly, the IOC has become ineffectual at any sort of higher moral standard. ... The problem with the IOC is it's not a transparent body at all” (“Happy Hour,” Fox Business, 8/6).

STATE OF A NATION: A WASHINGTON TIMES editorial states China's "last-minute revocation of a visa for Joey Cheek ... is an affront to America and the spirit of the Olympic Games." This latest incident "speaks volumes about a nation that sees the Games as a form of self-aggrandizement." China is "tarnishing the spirit of the Games" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 8/7). The USA TODAY editorial states "actions such as the one taken against Cheek cast a vision of an insecure, autocratic regime. ... So the supreme irony is that the Chinese have achieved the opposite of what they intended: huge attention on both Cheek and his cause" (USA TODAY, 8/7).

Scherr Says USOC Making Sure Athletes 
Understand How Their Actions Are Perceived
MASKING THE REALITY: Scherr said of the USOC's response to the four cyclists who wore the air masks, "We're making sure the athletes understand how their actions are perceived by the host country." BOCOG Dir of Media Operations Sun Weijia "would not directly answer whether [BOCOG] officials were insulted by the cyclists' decision." Sun: "We have to explain that looks can be deceiving, and that it looks like fog, but actually the air quality is good." U.S. cyclist Mike Friedman, who was among the cyclists wearing masks, said, "I'm not sorry for wearing the masks at all. I'm just very sorry that people thought it was some political statement. It was so, so far from that. It was just so I could prepare for competition in the best way I could" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/7). In N.Y., Filip Bondy notes the USOC "helped to raise the pollution issue and is now having a hard time making it disappear. ... At this juncture, it is beginning to look as if the media focus on this issue might have been a bit overblown." In the Athletes' Village, "not a single athlete was seen on Tuesday with such a mask," as most are "complaining more about the heat and humidity than the pollution." And it "isn't altogether clear whether these relatively unsophisticated filtering masks are that effective in any case." U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps said of the air quality in Beijing, "I've been here three times the last few years and haven't noticed anything" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/7). U.S. softball P Jennie Finch added the air quality “hasn’t affected us at all” (“Money for Breakfast,” Fox Business, 8/7).

DAMAGE ALREADY DONE: In Philadelphia, Marcus Hayes writes of the cyclists wearing masks in the airport, "For world-class athletes, is retrieving baggage all that strenuous?" The U.S. athletes "should be pretty red in the face" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 8/7). ESPN.com's Gene Wojciechowski: “They were in baggage claim. It’s not like there’s a huge pollution risk when you’re picking up your luggage. I thought it was embarrassing to them and they embarrassed and showed up the Chinese.” Denver Post columnist Woody Paige: “It was an embarrassment to us. Let’s stay classy, America. … It was a ridiculous stunt. They were trying to bring attention to themselves” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 8/6). ESPN’s J.A. Adande said it is "too late" for the cyclists to apologize for wearing the masks. Adande: "Those images are worldwide, those are already the lasting images of the Games” (“PTI,” ESPN, 8/6).

THEY MIGHT HAVE HAD A POINT: In London, Simon Turnbull writes the cyclists "might not have been as stupid as they looked." Turnbull yesterday attempted a five-mile run through Beijing, but the "steady five-miler turned into a slog of less than three miles." Turnbull: "By the time I got back to the media village, after just 25 minutes of running, my face was flushed with a purple haze and my body was drained and lathered" (London INDEPENDENT, 8/7). Canada Gold Medal-winning speed skater Clara Hughes, who is working for the CBC during the Games, also attempted a run in Beijing yesterday. Hughes: "I could feel the effects of the air quality and the heat and humidity on my lungs, on my mucous membranes, everything. I think we're definitely going to see a lot of athletes detonating before they even get to the start line because they're not going to adapt their training and their preparation." CBC commentator Barney Williams, whose wife is on the Canadian Women's rowing team, said that "some athletes on the team are experiencing breathing problems after having been [in Beijing] for about a week" (TORONTO STAR, 8/7). In Denver, Mark Kiszla notes front-page stories in China Daily "have repeatedly tried to paint the depressingly gray skies blue, which anybody with eyes can tell is not true" (DENVER POST, 8/7).

WHITHER THE OLYMPIC SPIRIT: In K.C., Joe Posnanski writes in a front-page piece it is "striking how much less fun sports have become the last few years." Posnanski: "Here we are in China, a couple of days before the Olympics begin, and there just isn't much talk about, you know, the Olympics. It seems like every story you hear is about pollution or paranoia or performance enhancers or politics" (K.C. STAR, 8/7). In a special to the L.A. TIMES, Salon.com TV critic Heather Havrilesky writes, "Pulling off the traditional global pep rally that accompanies the Olympics could prove to be a little bit more difficult for NBC this time. That good old Olympic spirit, set against the backdrop of the deeply depressing realities of life in China, makes this summer's festivities feel about as uplifting and cheerful as an accidental shooting at a wedding reception" (L.A. TIMES, 8/7).

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