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The Silent Partner (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday February 13, 2008 11:56AM; Updated: Wednesday February 13, 2008 11:56AM
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Part of this, perhaps, stems from a fading hope that the IOC can still influence China the way it did South Korea, when giving the 1988 Summer Games to Seoul spurred the country toward democracy. But the difference is huge: Tiny South Korea yearned to become a free-market player and faced intense international pressure to reform; five months before the '88 Olympics, the nation staged the most successful free election in its history.

China? In the seven years since being awarded the Games it has emerged as an economic superpower -- potent enough to welcome the Olympics even as it freely flouts the Olympic spirit. Why should China keep its vow on human rights? No country will boycott the Games, and no sponsor will pull out of them, if it means losing a foothold in the market of the future. That may sound too cynical by half, except that on Sunday the British Olympic committee announced the insertion of a clause in its athletes' contract that prevents "comment on any politically sensitive issues," only to remove it a day later under worldwide media pressure. Olympic committees in New Zealand and Rogge's native Belgium have already forbidden their athletes from giving political opinions during the Games.

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Maybe each nation chose on its own to truckle. Or perhaps there's been a truckle-down effect from the IOC: Since 2002 it has formally assessed the progress of Beijing's preparations without once assessing the "enhancing" of human rights in China. Has the IOC gone beyond enabling? If Chinese dissidents and journalists keep going to jail, "and the International Olympic Committee is keeping their mouth shut and looking the other way? They are the ones responsible," says T. Kumar of Amnesty International USA. "Both are on trial. Not only China: The IOC's credibility is on the line."

That's why Rogge must speak out. These Olympics are massively popular in China, and its leaders fear any loss of face. All he needs to do is say two sentences in public: This is not acceptable. Live up to your pledge. With that, the IOC stops legitimizing a nightmare. With that, the shame is China's alone.

Full disclosure: SI has licensing agreements with SI China and with the IOC for the Beijing Olympics.

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