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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Here's to the mob, for its humiliation of dictators and hypocrites alike

April 12, 2008

The hubris of China and the IOC's torch relay have given protesters a
golden chance to derail a grossly tainted Olympics

Simon Jenkins, simon.jenkins@guardian.co.uk
The Guardian,
Friday April 11 2008

This article appeared in the Guardian on Friday April 11 2008 on p30 of
the Comment & debate section. It was last updated at 00:19 on April 11 2008.

Come on, confess it, you have not enjoyed a story so much in years. A
round-the-world marathon with all-in wrestling, kick boxing, rugby
tackling and sanctimonious steeplechasing, staged free of charge in the
streets of London, Paris and San Francisco by the International Olympics
Committee - and before the Beijing games have even started. To add to
the joy, nobody gets hurt except politicians.

On one side are Gordon Brown, the Chinese politburo, Tessa Jowell, Ken
Livingstone, the IOC fat cats and 1,000 jogging policemen, all playing
"protect the holy flame" as if in a scene from Harry Potter. On the
other side is an old-fashioned mob. The mob wins and the nation splits
its sides with glee. The old left dares not walk the streets of London
these days, but must tremble behind a million pounds' worth of police
protection. Sweet is the sight of the boot on the other foot.

I have decided that the mob is a much underrated political phenomenon.
In London last weekend it reduced the Olympic torch parade to a Keystone
Cops farrago. Then in Paris it extinguished the flame altogether, and in
San Francisco it forced the proceedings to vanish into an early grave.
Some pundits consider such demonstrations undignified and ineffective in
an era of television studios, e-politics and blogs. But they said that
of rock concerts.

The mob helped kill the poll tax, felled the Berlin Wall and brought
Yeltsin to power in Russia. It toppled dictators in Serbia and Ukraine,
and may yet do so in Kenya and Zimbabwe. A crowd running amok in the
streets of a capital somehow outguns opinion polls and election
victories in the minds of rulers. When those in palaces of power peer
round their curtains and see the howling throng, their knees go weak and
some primitive instinct communicates defeat.

This week's mob in London, Paris and San Francisco was tiny and
unrepresentative of mostly non-violent Tibetan opinion. But by attaching
itself to a publicity stunt, the mob delivered a humiliating blow to the
mightiest dictatorship on earth, China. It also exposed the hypocrisy of
the IOC's Jacques Rogge, now trying to pretend that, "with hindsight",
awarding the games to Beijing was not a great idea as they might be
exploited politically. He should have listened.

The torch tour, shorn of the mental candyfloss about world peace and
harmony, was political. It was conducted by Chinese heavies and
patronised by has-been celebrities and publicity-hungry lobbyists. As
for the IOC, it failed to withdraw its approval even when told the tour
would climax in the former Tibetan capital of Lhasa. Rogge and his crew
have spent so long immersed in five-star hotels that they cannot tell a
Gandhi from a Ghengis Khan. The Chinese have taken them for the mother
of all rides. Never were so many conned so rotten by so few.

The mistake of this tour was its hubris. Had the Chinese and the IOC
been shrewd, they would have avoided democracies altogether, or at least
they would have run the torch inside stadiums, where they could ensure
photo-opportunities with politicians smiling as they received free
tickets for Beijing. Instead they craved geographical authenticity. They
thought with Kipling that they could "talk with crowds and keep your
virtue". They accepted the advice of the IOC, that playing to the mob
would serve the glory of them both. They both got a raspberry.

That said, every catastrophe has a silver lining. The Olympics can now
go in one of two directions. The costly-is-beautiful
politburo-cum-New-Labour Olympics are irrevocably tainted and seem
incapable of purging themselves. As the cameras roll, the anthems play
and the flags fly in the forthcoming orgy of chauvinism, every
contestant in Beijing must be pondering what political statement to make
on the rostrum, whether about Tibet or George Bush or Tower Hamlets
borough council. Hecklers will shout, banners will wave and thugs will
beat up bystanders. Track and field will be way down the news list.

If London sticks to this agenda in 2012 - and Brown's £9bn pledge
suggests it will - then it should make the best of it and plan a
parallel Olympiad of protest. By then the event will be regarded
globally as a festival of political activism, like G8 summits and United
Nations assemblies. With so much publicity and so much hype, it will be
the occasion for mass campaigning about anything and everything. The
theatre of the street will out-dazzle the theatre of sport.

Unlike G8 summits, the games offer real leverage to a mob. Nobody but
caterers cares if a G8 summit is disrupted or abandoned. But $20bn to
$30bn is invested in an Olympics these days, with just two weeks to make
a return. That time sensitivity offers street activists extraordinary
power, power that may even induce the Chinese to lighten their
repression at least until August.

London would be a splendid venue for a political Olympiad. It has long
been a place of refuge and asylum. For the period of the games its doors
should welcome any cause, however worthy or crackpot. Halls should be
open for rallies and churches for protest. Let Trafalgar Square be
standing room only for the duration. While the IOC tucks into the
taxpayer's champagne at Fortress Stratford, back in central London
anarchism can rule and Jowell's torch of harmony become the torch of
glorious discord.

Much nonsense is uttered about the Olympics not being political.
Anything rooted in blatant nationalism is political. Anything so
expensive as to impose a multibillion-pound opportunity cost on the host
nation is political. Anything "awarded" as a prize to authoritarian
states like the Soviet Union or China is political. The Olympics were
political to the Greeks, and included diplomatic parleys among the
poetry competitions and beauty parades. Nor were the actual games
gentlemanly and decorous. Robin Lane Fox, in The Classical World,
describes "smashed teeth, limbs, ears and bones, occasionally to the
point of death".

The revival of the games by Pierre de Coubertin in the 19th century was
also political, albeit the facile politics of world peace and platitudes
about the global fraternity of youth. There is no fraternity in
international sport, which as Coubertin recognised is war by other
means. Sportsmen are trained to beat hell out of each other to the
greater glory of their country. All else is naivety.

To those who might find a political Olympiad distasteful, there is a
clear and simple alternative. They can treat the Olympics as only about
sport, and not about world harmony and the enrichment of the
construction industry. Athletes can attend the games as individuals. The
tarnished Olympic image can be cleansed by suppressing national anthems,
flags and all visits and speeches by politicians. The games would become
solely about running, throwing, jumping, swimming, riding - active
verbs, not abstract nouns.

If that happened there would be no need of idle threats against China.
There need be none of the political clutter that Rogge and others have
brought to the Olympics, any more than there has been at this month's
world cycling and swimming championships in Manchester. They passed off
without anyone mentioning Tibet. But they did not have to justify $30bn.
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