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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Re-thinking the Olympics

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.

13 comments:

Hungry Mother said...

I agree with taking the politics out of the Olympics. Also, I'd like to see business removed from sports. A permanent facility in Greece would be a good move toward the first point. It would also be nice to de-emphasize the nationalism and re-emphasize the individual athletes.

Mike said...

Initially, like a lot of other people, I thought that we shouldn't boycott the Olympics for the sake of the athletes. But the fact is, people all over the world make sacrifices every day for a myriad of reasons. The Olympic athletes are not "sacred."

It's a cause far more important that individual athlete's participation in the game. it's the best message we could sent to China.

Phoebe Fay said...

I like all your suggestions. And no big surprise, since I already boycott Chinese-made goods, I'm all over boycotting the Olympics. I'm sorry for the athletes, but the world would be better if we were all willing to make sacrifices for principles. Granted, my forgoing a new toaster is not quite equivalent to forgoing a race one's dreamed of for years, but they both pale against the sacrifice made by Tibetans and Chinese who have risked everything striving for a free voice.

But there's a simple reason why your suggestions won't get implemented. The Olympics is big business at this point. It's about corporations at least as much as it's about nations. Until masses of people are willing to rise up against their multi-national corporation overlords, change won't come.

Colonel Colonel said...

HungryMo: Yes, it would be good to get it back to the point of being about the athletes.

Mike: It would be a good message, which of course is why nobody will send it, least of all Bush, who can thank his lucky stars he's been able to finance his dirty little war by selling the country to the Chinese.

Phoebe: Exactly, it's all about business, including the IOC. Sad.

Utah Savage said...

Athletes aside, it is all about business and big tourism bucks to pay for the gib bloated stadiums. I have a friend who is a make-up artist for NBC (or which ever of the big three is covering the games--I'm getting old enough to forget what I don't give a crap about). She has worked on the TV personalities who cover the games, so has gone all over the world slapping make-up on the likes of Katie, and Matt, and who ever else the send and put on camera. I'm usually happy for her that she gets to do so much exotic traveling, but this time I'm afraid for her. But the money, at even her lowly level, is so good.... Hard to pass up when your trying to pay your mortgage.
Me, I boycott everything Chinese. I will never ever step foot inside Wall Mart. I'm trying to become the anti-consumer. Food is just about all that's on my shopping list.

Malicious Intent said...

Very well said. The games are a sham and distract from the REAL problems going on in the world. Sure they are a "feel good thing" that lasts a few weeks. But what happens once everyone goes back home? I have zero interest in watching the games. I do feel for the athletes, because they have worked hard and do deserve better.

AngryMan said...

This whole mess over the Olympics is totally ridiculous. Who even cares about them? I haven't watched the Olympics in years and haven't cared about them ever. The whole thing is so meaningless and lame.
We should totally trash the Olympics. Think about a world without the Olympics. Mitt Romney's big claim to fame would be gone. How great would that be?

Colonel Colonel said...

Utah: Yes, I'm a little worried about safety over there too, although I'll bet the Chinese authorities really put a lot of effort into keeping everything safe.

MI: Well put.

Angryman: "Think about a world without the Olympics. Mitt Romney's big claim to fame would be gone. How great would that be?"

Oh, be still, my heart...

Thomas said...

I say hold them in Greece. Take the politics out and make it easy on the athletes.

Sooner or later folks are going to wake up and realize that China is a big nasty problem waiting to happen.

Of course Wal mart will never let us share that reality, but it lurks in the back of intelligent minds

Mrs. Chili said...

I think you're absolutely right in that the question of human rights and decency is far more important than a couple of long-jumps and a soccer game. What the Olympics started out as and what it's devolved into are so far removed from one another that we can't even stand on the "spirit of international competition and fellowship" idea.

I'm not watching, and I support those who support boycott.

Malach the Merciless said...

GO EAST GERMANY!

anaglyph said...

It's kind of perfect that the Games are in China though don't you think? Now the Olympic Games are a complete illustration of the ultimate cynical commercial event: a travesty of everything - sportsmanship, politics, ecology, sociology...

I wondered at the time, and I wonder still why China was chosen. They must have known it would be a debacle. Maybe they made that really stupid assumption that giving China some responsibility would get them to pull their socks up. Or something.

Cissy Strutt said...

Well said, my colonel.

Hold the games in Greece.
Anyone can compete.
Naked.