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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?"

Opinion: Red Rover, Red Rover, Send... Sarkozy Right Over?

August 2, 2008

Paull Randt
Globalist Olympic Blog
July 31, 2008

A lot of fuss has been made over which heads-of-state are attending
the Beijing Olympic Games and which are not. Many people are equating
their attendance with an endorsement of the Chinese government. In
light of the March conflict in Tibet and reports of activists being
jailed in the run-up to the Games, there have been calls for state
leaders to boycott. Others feel that Olympic boycotts will not effect
political change. So, in the final count, who will be in the stands?

Some leaders agree that attendance is tantamount to supporting the
Chinese government's recent actions, which they refuse to do. Thus,
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Czech Republic President Vaclav
Klaus will not be seen among the spectators.

But other heads-of-state believe that not attending would be, in the
words of President George Bush, "an affront to the Chinese people,
which may make it more difficult to be able to speak frankly with the
Chinese leadership." Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda echoed
Bush's sentiments. Both will be in attendance at the opening
ceremony, making the younger Bush the first sitting American
President to attend an Olympic Games abroad.

Because of the politicization of attendance, some leaders have felt
pressured to justify their absences. Neither German Chancellor Angela
Merkel nor Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be at the
Games, but both have had to explain that their absence is not out of
protest—apparently, their schedules as world leaders are already booked.

In a complicated variation on that theme, British Prime Minister
Gordon Brown is obliged as the representative of the next host
country (London 2012) to attend the closing ceremony, but he will not
be attending the opening ceremony. British Liberal Democratic leader
Nick Clegg has somehow construed this as doing "the right thing,"
meaning withholding endorsement of the Chinese regime. Brown's
spokespeople said he never planned to go to the opening, but that he
is "not boycotting."

And then, of course, there is France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, who
in March made his attendance contingent upon Chinese concessions
regarding the Dalai Lama and human rights abuses. However, at the
recent G8 summit in Japan, Sarkozy dramatically announced that he
would be attending the Games. This sent both the EU and China into
uproar: the EU Parliament, which supported a boycott, does not want
him to go and, after his grandstanding, the Chinese do not want him to come.

Most recently, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has announced
his attendance, but he felt no need to explain himself.

Is attendance at these Games necessarily a political statement?

In the words of Hein Verbruggen, chairman of the International
Olympic Committee's (IOC) coordination commission, "there is a very
thick, fat red line between" politics and sports. According to the
IOC, the Olympics are an apolitical event. As such, attendance should
not be understood as a statement for or against the Chinese government.

But historically, the politicization of the Olympics is the rule, not
the exception. Remember the Black Power salutes by sprinters Tommie
Smith and John Carlos in Mexico City in 1968, the 1980 U.S. boycott
of the Moscow Games following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and
the Soviet boycott four years later in LA.

In each case, the focus was on the athletes, even if in some cases
governments dictated their actions. At least the athletes themselves
were the either the agent or the medium for politicization of the
Games. This year, the athletes are being relatively ignored. Dream
for Darfur, a group including over 130 Olympic athletes, has called
for a ceasefire in Darfur and encouraged Steven Spielberg to withdraw
as the Olympics' artistic director. While the press briefly noted
Spielberg's withdrawal, the roll call of dignitaries has since
replaced stories of athlete activism.

No fewer than 40 countries are sending representatives to Beijing
with positions equivalent to or higher than Secretary of State. But
the Games are about the athletes. If there is a political point to be
made, let them be the ones to make it. After all, some people might
just enjoy the Games -- Bush is bringing his family, all of who
reputedly love the Olympics.
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