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The Olympics aren't political? Please.

June 29, 2008


June 26, 2008

Poor China. Beijing has complained incessantly over the past few
months that human rights critics and other countries have politicized
the Olympics, while turning around and trying to use the games for
its own propaganda purposes. Now, the International Olympic Committee
(IOC) is rebuking China for remarks made by Zhang Qingli (above
right), the local Communist Party bigwig in Tibet and the architect
of this spring's crackdown. As the Olympic torch passed through Lhasa
last Saturday, Zhang said the following in a public speech:

"The sky above Tibet will never change. The red five-star flag will
always fly above this land. We can definitely smash the separatist
plot of the Dalai Lama clique completely."

Whoops. "China's solid position is against the politicizing of the
Olympics," a spokesman for the foreign ministry said in response to the IOC.

But the IOC is kidding itself if it thinks the Olympics aren't
political. As John Hoberman argues in "Think Again: The Olympics" in
the new issue of Foreign Policy, the committee tries to have it both ways:

"Olympic diplomacy" has always been rooted in a doublespeak that
exploits the world's sentimental attachment to the spirit of the
games. In the absence of real standards, the spectacle of Olympic
pageantry substitutes for a genuine concern for human rights. At the
heart of this policy is a timid and euphemizing rhetoric that turns
violent demonstrations and state-sponsored killings into
"discussions," a combination of grandiosity and cluelessness that has
long marked the IOC's accommodating attitude toward unsavory Olympic
hosts. Even today, with regard to Beijing, the committee has fallen
back on its old habit of claiming to be both apolitical and
politically effective at the same time. Although the IOC "is not a
political organization," it does claim to "advance the agenda of
human rights." Sadly, neither is true.
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