Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bush won't boycott Olympics

President Bush has said that he will not change his plans to attend the Summer Games in Beijing, despite the Chinese military crackdown in Tibet.

China's harsh response to protestors in Tibet has drawn criticism from around the world and has again raised fears about human rights within China. Government authorities claim that so far 16 people have been killed in the protests and another 325 injured, but these numbers are impossible to verify since China has imposed a media blackout in Tibet and has tried to expel most foreigners. Tibetans claim that China is trying to wipe out their culture and are calling for autonomy for their region.

Bush has said though that the recent crackdown will not keep him from attending the games, and that the Olympics and politics should be kept separate. I would agree with him except that China is already using the Olympics for political purposes. Hosting the Summer Games in Beijing is a bold way for China to say that it has "arrived" as one of the elite, modern, industrial nations of the world. Its increasingly a way that countries are viewing the Olympics - Russia hopes to use the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi as a way of showing their progress from the days of the Soviet Union, while bids from cities like Istanbul, Buenos Aires and Cape Town all are meant to show that these regions of the world - which have never hosted an Olympics - can put on a modern spectacle along with the most modern cities of Europe or North America. The logic goes that to host an Olympics game means building a lot of stuff - arenas, hotels, the infrastructure to move thousands of people around - so if a city can do that, it can certainly serve as a regional manufacturing or business center.

Getting back to China, when they were awarded the Games they were also told that they were expected to improve their dismal record on human rights. The crackdown in Tibet shows that China still has a long way to go. The international community should show their displeasure in some way. An outright boycott though is unfair to the athletes who have dedicated years of their lives to pursuing the dream of competing. One compromise would be for nations to boycott the opening ceremonies - athletes would still be able to compete, yet the very public image of nations NOT marching into the stadium to start the games would be a visual that even the Chinese government could not hide from their citizens.
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