All hail the world's biggest dysfunctional family picnic
Posted: Tuesday March 18, 2008 3:58PM; Updated: Wednesday March 19, 2008 6:04PM
That sound you hear is China crackin' heads and takin' names in Tibet as it tidies up and puts on its best face before the guests arrive in August. But not everyone is willing to ignore the sound of servants being beaten in the back room while cocktails and horse doovers are served, so calls for a boycott have arisen from folks who are more than passively concerned about human rights.
"From the world of sports there has been absolutely no call for boycott whatsoever," International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge has assured Reuters. "There have been absolutely no calls for a boycott, neither emanating from governments, and we have been very heartened by the position of the European Union and the major governments of the world who have all said almost unanimously that boycotts will not be a solution."
Rogge's position is the IOC should deal only with sports and that a boycott will only hurt innocent athletes. Thus, Tibetans should take their lumps until help arrives from elsewhere, though one wonders about athletes being hurt by the notorious air in Beijing. Marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie, an asthma sufferer, has said, "The pollution in China is a threat to my health and it would be difficult for me to run 42k in my current condition."
But I digress.
It might be easier to swallow Rogge's apparent relief that there will be no boycotts if the Olympics did not profess to be a major world influence or hold up the ideal of peace and good will through fair, honest sporting competition. And according to a piece by, SI's S.L. Price, Rogge has backpedaled from his initial message to China that it respect human rights as a condition for hosting the Games. But Rogge is not alone in his belief that the Games should remain separate from politics. It's a nice idea. Nice, but impossible.
Host nations often use the Games as a grand stage on which to show off like demented peacocks, and whether it's judges from one rival nation screwing a team from another, or terrorists killing athletes in the name of a cause, someone wants to use the world spotlight to deliver a message or show their superiority.
An Olympics without political dust, smoke and noise is a rare beastie. Basically every nation on this benighted orb has a skeleton or three hanging next to the tux in the closet, and there are always aggrieved on the front lawn with a gallon of gas, a box of blue tips and a fervent desire to see the host's digs go up in smoke. But some hosts have more skeletons and inspire more ire than others
It would have been better if the Games had not been awarded to China in the first place, but the Olympics have a lovely history of questionable hosts. Hitler's Germany got them in 1936, and the gulag-infested Soviet Union in 1980. Of course, some folks didn't cotton to the U.S. getting them in 1984. So if avoiding political fallout is the idea, it's too bad the IOC can't just hold the damned games in a neutral site, like the South Pole. Then again, there have to be humans out there who have bones to pick with penguins.
In the best of times, the Olympics are essentially mankind's biggest dysfunctional family picnic. At least the athletes and common folk are usually able to make nice long enough to play some games, but it can be hard to ignore the stench of politics. A cynic might add that the Games merely present the world's largest contest of sophisticated cheaters, although the occasional triumph of the underdog makes the clambake worth the aggravation, and a team or athlete can genuinely lift the spirits of a country.
So boycotts solve nothing, eh? Probably so, though money and prestige have been known to yell and there's plenty of both attached to the Beijing shindig. But if the Olympics are indeed about ideals, it would be nice to see them and mankind come together to do more for the oppressed and their suffering than offer cop-outs and tepid apologies for their plight while we enjoy our rich pageant. Then again, reality ain't that neat and easy. It's impossible to get the family of man to agree on anything, including what time it is. So, what to do?
Looks like for now it's simply on with the picnic. Pass the official potato salad and tell those damned protestors in the back room to pipe down.