It is ironic that the Olympic Torch relay was started in 1936 by the Nazi Government in Germany to further promote their upcoming Olympics. While some repression was already known to the world by 1936, the Olympic flame traveled around the world without any protest. It was the first time that a repressive government had used the Olympic ideals to showcase their political plans.
No one, in this cynical age, thinks that a large part of the Olympic movement is pure as new snow. But, the goal persists: In 776 BCE, the ancient Olympics were used as a way for men to compete and even war between the Greek city states was stopped. When the ancient Olympics were canceled around 329 BCE, the goals had failed, due to man’s inhumanity to man, and the greed and cheating that was going on in the Olympic contests.
One of the goals of the Olympic Games is to celebrate sport, celebrate youth and show the world that competition in sport is preferable to war. Most sports fans will put up with the nationalist bravado of most countries as they parade into the Olympic stadiums. And in the last few summer Olympics, while we see and appreciate the countries that host the Games, we were not overrun with propaganda nor have we felt that the Olympic ideal has been completely left in shambles….
While the Bird’s Nest will be finished, and the hotels will be ready, the Chinese government has something much more detrimental to their Olympic extravaganza than bad smog: it is their repression of Tibet, and their further issues in Darfur and Nepal.
Today, at the very beginning of the Olympic Torch ceremony, where the Olympic flame is lit and begins its journey around the world, bringing with it the pagentry and history of the Olympics, there was a small protest. While, apparently Greek TV avoided it as did Chinese TV, the BBC did catch the protest by shooting very wide. The flag as unfurled by a member of Reporters without Borders, a group of journalists concerned with the Chinese governments poor standings on human rights, especially in Darfur, Nepal and Tibet.
As the Olympic torch was passed through Athens, there were several acts of defiance against very tough security measures, all focused on Tibet and Darfur. The Chinese government , in some ways, seem incredulous to the protests and world outcry about what they consider to be internal issues. They seem to hope that the protests will die away, but they more than likely will increase as we get closer to the opening ceremony.
The Olympics symbols, in many of the protestors minds, are being used to sanitize a regime that has half a century of repression in its history, not only with Tibet and places like Darfur, but with their own people. Some would say, in the defense of the Chinese that a) the Olympics will open the country to more observation and commentary from the outside world, and that is true. But, without pressure, according to the protesting groups, China will not change their stance on any of these issues.
The $40 billion dollars being spent to improve the infrastructure of Beijing and China before the Olympics will benefit all of the Chinese in the major cities. The control of the media that the Chinese goverment has will, more than likely, keep many Chinese from seeing how the outside world feels about their government’s actions.
The power and majesty of the Olympic symbols will over power many fans. The power and strength of the Olympic movement comes at a huge cost, and global sponsors pay that cost. They want to tie into the goodwill that the modern Olympics brings to the world-and there is much good that the events do!
There is a cultural divide between China and the West. It is said that the late Chou en Lai, who survived the Long March and spent more than a few years in jail during the Popular Revolt, always felt that Richard Nixon would rise back into power after his resignation. It was something that the Politbureau just did not comprehend. Perhaps that is the problem today.
However, the battle for the hearts and minds of the world’s sports fans is not won or lost yet. For China to benefit truly from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, they must consider changes to their policies on Darfur, Nepal and Tibet. Without that, the pictures of the Olympic torch, traveling around the world will be negated by black booted Chinese security forces beating unarmed protestors in Tibet. That is not the warm and fuzzy feelings toward China that the Chinese government wants to promote over the next six months.
The Chinese government is masterful at propaganda. Tney must find a way to respond to the outcries against government repression before their $40 billion coming out party turns into months of bad publicity going to worse about China. Time will tell.
To get a good picture of the Olympic Torch ceremony, plus the protests in Greece, London and Nepal, please check the BBC link below: