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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?"

Olympics: Fair play, solidarity and fraternity

April 20, 2008

Primastuti Handayani
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Saturday, April 19, 2008

OPINION

When Baron Pierre de Coubertin restored the Olympic Games in 1894, he
dreamed of building a peaceful and better world by educating youth
through sports, without discrimination. More than a century later, his
dream has not been fully achieved.

With the 29th Olympic Games only four months away, organizer Beijing is
facing boycott threats from world leaders -- mostly from attending the
opening ceremony -- due to the Chinese government's violent handling of
recent unrest in Tibet, which claimed numerous lives, and the world's
low opinion of China's human rights record.

International Olympics Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge has
criticized the threats, saying boycotting the opening ceremony would
only hurt the athletes. Rogge also said political leaders were free to
decide whether to boycott the Games, adding that if they did boycott, it
"would not harm the quality and the success of the Games because the
Games are about the athletes".

This is true. We must remember the Olympic motto of "Citius, Altius,
Fortius", which means faster, higher and stronger. The motto is an
encouragement to athletes always to perform better.

It was a relief when 205 national Olympic committees unanimously
promised to reject any boycott and condemned political meddling in sports.

Participating athletes are also expected to live up to the Olympic
Charter, which bans any kind of "demonstration or political, religious
or racial propaganda" in any Olympic venue.

Boycotts are not a new issue for the Olympics. We remember how 62
countries, led by the United States, boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games as
a protest against the Soviet Union's intervention in Afghanistan. Four
years later, the Soviet-led bloc boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics.

Such actions, however, go against the values of the Olympic movement. In
1991, the IOC called for an Olympic Truce for the Olympic Games, with
its first project to accommodate athletes from the disintegrating
Yugoslavia.

Former United Nations secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali said that
"Olympism is a school of democracy. In other words, there is a natural
link between the ethics of the Olympic Games and the fundamental
principles of the United Nations".

The UN proclaimed 1994 as the International Year of Sport and the
Olympic Ideal and commended the Olympic Movement for its ideal to
promote international understanding among the youth of the world through
sports and culture.

Since this proclamation, the next three Olympics have been staged
peacefully, with the media back to focusing on world records, doping
issues and the hosts' success in staging the Games. However, this year
is an exception.

China is eager, perhaps overly so, to ensure the Olympics are a success,
particularly with Beijing being just the third Asian city to host the
quadrennial event.

The hosts have made numerous efforts to deal with air pollution, press
freedom and other issues. China has built incredible venues -- including
the landmark Beijing National Stadium, more popularly known as the Bird
Nest, and the Beijing National Aquatics Center -- to welcome the
Olympics despite criticism that construction of the venues has displaced
thousands of families.

But the country has faced other issues not related to the Olympics.
Chinese policies on Tibet, Darfur (Sudan) and Myanmar have received the
harshest criticism. Pressure has increased for Beijing to end the
violence in Lhasa and engage in a dialogue with Tibet. The Chinese
government has yet to respond to these calls.

Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg stepped down as an artistic
director for the opening ceremony because of China's policies in Sudan.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu has asked China to play a
greater role in Myanmar peace efforts.

The Olympic torch relay has faced problems since its initial ceremony in
Athens, with many of the world's major cities having to organize massive
security details to protect the torch from protesters.

Jakarta will limit the torch relay, to be held on April 22, to inside
the Bung Karno Sports Complex in Senayan for fear of protests over
political issues. How can the public be aware of the upcoming Olympics
if they cannot see the torch being carried along the city's major
thoroughfares?

These issues will not go away if China stubbornly refuse to compromise
with the world's demands.

It is also important for the IOC members to refer to the committee's
fundamental principles and De Coubertin's early mission to make the
Olympics an educational project.

Former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch told the 1995 UN General
Assembly that Olympic education is based on fair play, solidarity and
fraternity.

"To change the world requires a transformation of people, and it is most
certainly that the philosophical role of sport comes into play ...."

So, the question for all the countries participating in the Olympics,
including China, is will they or won't they take part in efforts to
create a peaceful and better world, as imagined by De Coubertin all
those years ago.
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