It's time to re-think the Olympics. The recent brou-haha over the torch run for the upcoming China Games shows how impossible it is to separate politics from international spectacle of any kind.
I'll be quite frank about my own feelings on the upcoming Olympics- I think it's a travesty that China is hosting the games, and I think the US and all other nations should boycott them (not that anyone will). I do feel empathy for the athletes, who have no part in the political arguments, but in the end I believe that human rights are more important than sport, and there are some governments that go so far over the line that we need to stop and ask ourselves whether it is morally right to ignore political repression, cultural genocide and the complete muzzling of all speech and dissent for millions of people, just so a few thousand people can play games for a few weeks, the rest of us can watch, and the television networks and Coca-Cola can make heaps of money. When criticizing the host government gets its citizens five years in prison, I think it trivializes the concept of human freedoms to say we'll look the other way so that somebody can run a 100-yard dash.
The problem does not begin and end with the China Games, of course. It began back in 1936 when Nazi Germany hosted the Games. It was Nazi Germany, by the way, which began the tradition of the international torch run, a parallel with the current games that I find eerie, but which I'll leave lie for now. If the history of the modern Olympic games has shown us anything, it is that the theory that the Olympics foster international understanding, and the notion that awarding the games to a certain country will have any effect whatsoever on their internal political policies, is an utter crock of bullshit. Nice idea -doesn't work.
For that matter, if we look at sport itself, and the notion that international sport fosters goodwill and fellowship, well- yes and no. Certainly the current outreach between American and Japanese baseball seems to be encouraging goodwill between our already-friendly countries. On the other hand, let's talk about international football (soccer) for a moment...
I'm not suggesting that international sport is useless, and that the Olympics are meaningless, merely that we need to rethink the proposition that they are some sort of cure-all for deeper international problems. They're games. They're fun for the participants and spectators, but that's about it, and there's nothing wrong with that. And I think that leads us to a rational solution to the problem of the Olympics- stop the traveling road show.
The competition to host the games is undignified, and the building of the facilities has become much too expensive for most countries to even contemplate. When you've got a system where only rich countries can compete to host the games, you've already lost the battle for international fairness and understanding before you've started.
The answer is to have all countries contribute to building and maintaining an international Olympics facility in Greece, and use it for every Olympics. Let every "nation" participate, and yes, I mean every "nation", not country. Nations of peoples- united ethnically and culturally, have been around for millenia, even as national boundary lines get re-drawn every generation. Let's cast aside the absurd argument about, for instance, "which" China gets to come. Let them both come. Let Tibet send a contingent, along with any other ethnic group that can claim "nation" status. That would include groups such as our own Sioux nation. Why not? I think that would be a blast.
The Olympics are great sport, but it's time to re-think what we expect of them and the way they are conducted. As for the upcoming games, as I said before, as much sympathy as I have for the athletes, I won't be watching.
Anyone interested in keeping up to date on the reasons the Chinese government is a problematic Olympics host, can get all the information you need on the 'Reporters without Borders' or the Amnesty International websites.