Thursday, April 17, 2008

The 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing are not too far away. However, it is abundantly clear that there are huge differences of opinion as to how the Games are being viewed across the globe.

I saw a recent comment in an op-ed piece in the WSJ, which I found very interesting:

The Chinese media decry violent Tibetan rioters; the West criticizes the Chinese crackdown. The Western press describes Chinese censorship; Chinese netizens slam Western media bias. A Chinese official calls the Dalai Lama a “political exile bent on engaging in activities aimed at splitting the motherland,” while in the West he is described as a man of “peace” and “reconciliation.” Americans and Europeans debate boycotting the Olympics to protest China’s human-rights record; Chinese commentary describes Western arrogance toward a “developing country that is going to host the games.” Are we all living on the same planet?

Firstly, well done to the journalist for not writing a bias or controversial view - otherwise this post would be ranting at how another Western media outlet is showing its arrogance to wards a developing nation!!!

The entire issue is one that is hard to judge on. This is a great historic moment for China and is much more than just a sporting event for the Chinese people - it is a cultural milestone that has already resulted in enormous national pride and love of a country (I hope the 2012 Games will do the same for the UK.)

I always believed a sporting event should be left at that - do not bring politics into it. Let the athletes do the talking! However, for both 'sides' this is much much more. On an accelerated growth scale, activists, celebrities, government leaders and others concerned about Human Rights, Tibet, the evironment, and other issues are using this 'sporting event' as a platform to voice their own agendas - be it right or wrong, factual or subjective.

My main concern is whether some of this attention is creating apathy towards each side. Will these 'advocates' turn people off their cause? Will these 'advocates' change the true meaning and worth of the Olympic Games for all future hosts? Is this going to widen the gap between China and the West even more?

Time will tell. I personally hope the Olympics are a great success in that the athletes are able to live their dream and that we remember that the Summer Games is a great occasion where records are broken and medals are won. Leave the politics at the gates please…

1 comment:

Ade Brophy said...

Hey mate, I feel some sympathy towards the view that sporting events should stay about sports, but the reality is that the Olympics is much much more. It is inherently political - not so much in terms of ideology, but very much so when it comes to a nation managing its international profile. The UK was willing to invest massive amounts of political and financial capital to win the 2012 games, while allowing local domestic sporting clubs to decline - not a situation that would occur if sports for sports sake was driving the agenda.

Any nation stepping up to take on the Olympics does so to make a bold statement to the world about its status as a great nation. And China's achievements in recent years means that it should feel entitled to do so.

However, like any big PR gesture, timing is everything. For example, it's very unwise to draw attention to your company while you're still refiling your results with the SEC. So too, while your country is still moving towards a model that is more consistent with global norms, it may yet be unwise to step forward as the standard bearer for an inherently international institution.

China doesn't have to become like the rest of the world, but arguably it can't seek out international glory without also acknowledging international values, and the risks inherent in taking a divergent path.