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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Don’t play games

April 3, 2008

Daily News & Analysis, India - OPINION
Wednesday, April 02, 2008

To run or not to run, that is the question facing every Indian celebrity
who has been invited to take part in the Indian leg of the Beijing
Olympic torch relay in New Delhi on April 17. While India’s most famous
footballer, Baichung Bhutia, has already turned down the invitation, to
express his solidarity with the Tibetan cause, Bollywood icons Aamir
Khan and Saif Ali Khan have made it clear that they will participate in
the Olympic relay.

Celebrities and others elsewhere too are making their positions clear on
the issue. Steven Speilberg, the master film-director, has resigned from
his post as creative director of the Games, though he has raked up the
issue of Darfur in Sudan, where China is making huge investments. Till
recently, Spielberg had refused to pay heed to calls from his Hollywood
colleagues, but recent events in Tibet seem to have spurred him on.
However, many other athletes are all for participating in the games.

The naysayers may be making a statement expressing their support for the
Tibetans, while others say that “The Olympic Games do not belong to
China”, a point made by Aamir Khan. But sport has often got mixed up
with politics and many countries have used the Olympics to make their
political point. Right from the 1936 Berlin Olympics, when the Nazis’
attempt to turn the Olympics into a showpiece of ‘Aryan’ superiority
fell flat when the black American Jesse Owens won four gold medals to
the decision of the Americans to stay away from Moscow in 1980 because
the Soviet Union had marched into Afghanistan, and then to four years
later when the Soviets boycotted the Games in Los Angeles ostensibly
because of commercial sponsorship, this sporting extravaganza has a long
history of being used for political leverage.

For China, the 2008 Beijing Olympics was supposed to be a coming out
party, and indeed the world had hoped that getting the Games would make
China clean up its human rights record. But China’s clampdown on the
recent eruption of Tibetan protests in Lhasa has not only put paid to
the makeover, it has also evoked widespread sympathy for the Tibetan cause.

However, it cannot be ignored that the Olympics is the world’s premier
sporting event, and an Olympic medal is something for which athletes all
over the world toil hard for years and years; it is what gives meaning
and purpose to the lives of thousands of sportspersons. Therefore,
penalising the sportspersons is unfair. Sure, while celebrities and
governments may use this opportunity to exert pressure on China, the
Games itself, as a celebration of human athletic achievement, should not
be held to ransom.
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