Friday, August 1, 2008

A black eye for the IOC

I don't know about you, but I am entirely disgusted by the very thought of the Beijing Olympics.  The behaviour of China and the International Olympic Committee has been reprehensible from the start and recent days have only revealed just how rotten to the core the whole thing is. I have decided that I am simply not going to watch the Olympics this time around.  The only hope is that these Games will be such a mess that the world will see the real China rather than the one the communist government wants to protray on television; edited, scripted, controlled and censored. This editorial published in the National Post really says it well, I think.

A black eye for the IOC

National Post  Published: Friday, August 01, 2008

Kevan Gosper, an Olympic si lver medallist with Australia's 4x400 track relay team in the 1956 Summer Games, was forced to whack the panic button yesterday. Mr. Gosper is the top press liaison for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and is the man who had assured the international media for months that the Chinese government had agreed not to impose censorship on foreign reporters covering the Beijing Olympics. Naturally, it was pretty awkward for Mr. Gosper when China announced earlier this week that it would do exactly that.

Just two weeks ago, IOC president Jacques Rogge had repeated assurances that "there will be no censorship of the Internet" in sections of Olympics venues used by foreign reporters. The issue had been considered an important one, not because foreign reporters will have any trouble evading the so-called "Great Firewall of China," but because it was China's chance to demonstrate to the world that it understands Western free speech norms, recognizes them to some degree as an ideal and is capable of letting foreigners report on its country without the restrictions that it still chooses to impose on its own media.

Mr. Gosper had to admit to the world press that China was not stabbing the IOC in the back by changing tack on censorship with just over a week to go before the opening ceremonies. In fact, unidentified IOC members had reached a behind-the-scenes accord permitting censorship several months ago, yet allowed Mr. Gosper and his boss, Mr. Rogge, to go on making asses of themselves. (Hein Verbruggen, the head of a "co-ordination commission" to whom Mr. Gosper reports, has attracted suspicion by virtue of both his position and his reaction to the news; he calmly told an Olympic house newspaper that no promises of "full access" had ever been made by China, suggesting that he saw no reason for fuss.)

"I regret," a visibly angry Mr. Gosper was forced to acknowledge in a press conference, "that it now appears [the Beijing organizing committee] has announced that there will be limitations on Web site access during Games time … I also now understand that some IOC officials negotiated with the Chinese that some sensitive sites would be blocked on the basis they were not considered Games-related." The "sensitive sites" turned out to include some belonging to the BBC and Deutsche Welle, as well as Wikipedia, which has quietly become a staple resource for journalists over the years.

The black eye is one of the greatest ever for the IOC, which has, to put it mildly, not always covered itself in glory in the past. It appears that the organization was content to let lies be spread by its representatives in order to attract the world press to China under false pretenses. The IOC's business depends on our continued appetite for the myth of the Olympics as a place for fair play and the pursuit of excellence. In the long run, if it pays no attention to these norms as an institution, it cannot dream of being respected as a peddler of them.

Increasingly, the Beijing Games appear to be a trainwreck in the making; the censorship controversy has been compounded by fears that efforts to guarantee outdoor competitors a breathable atmosphere will fail; by a last-minute algae invasion of an aquatic venue; and by accusations that Chinese selectors may have violated age limits for gymnasts. At this moment, one would surely have trouble finding an Olympics viewer, an athlete or a national official who does not consider the awarding of the Games to Beijing to be a mistake.

The good news, if any is to be found, is that a series of humiliations may do more to create real pressure for openness in China than a squeaky-clean, smooth-running Games ever could. It is possible that the Leninist maxim "The worse, the better" applies. China has invested enormous national prestige in the Olympics -- there must be those in officialdom whose lives are (literally) at stake -- but has apparently decided to proceed using the Communist tools of central planning, deception and state-imposed "harmony" of thought and action.

Very well: Let's see whether a Western commercial spectacle can be successfully staged under such circumstances. Like the old division of West and East Berlin, it has become a rare laboratory experiment in comparing ways of life. And, as with Berlin, the existing Chinese government may not be fully prepared for the implications of the result.

1 comment:

Stacy Harp said...

I'm with ya Glenn.