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Force for Good

August 10, 2008

The Spirit Of The Games And China's Backward Progress
By Claude Arpi
The Statesman
August 8, 2008

Even before the Olympic Games have started, the People's Republic of
China has earned the top place on one podium, while the United States
will have to be satisfied with the Silver. It is the Internet podium.
The China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) recently
published its latest statistics: more than 253 million Chinese were
online in June. During the same period, an estimated 223 million of
Americans were net-surfing.
Though the Internet penetration in the US is 71 per cent compared to
19 per cent only in China, the growth is phenomenal in China, a
staggering 56 per cent in one year. According to projections, 490
million Chinese will be on-line by 2012. More significantly, 95 per
cent of the Chinese internauts have broadband connections. The online
economy brought China $5.9 billion in revenue in 2007. But China is a
land of contradictions. While the country topped the world in terms
of users, it has one of the most abysmal records when it comes to
freedom of expression. Further, all the promises given to the Olympic
Committee in 2001 have been broken.

Rights violations

At the time that Beijing was awarded the right to host the 2008
Olympic Games, many human rights campaigners across the globe had
expressed their surprise as Beijing had always been credited with
dreadful human rights violations and heavy censorship of the press
and Internet. In 2001, the International Olympic Committee's (IOC)
Executive Director, François Carrard was quick to defend the choice
of Beijing. He announced that the Games would be a 'force for good.'

The IOC's president, Jacques Rogge, confirmed: "We are convinced that
the Olympic Games will improve human rights in China." Today, seven
years later, the 'force for good' has not brought any tangible
progress and the Games' Spirit seems to be fading by the day.

Last week, the French daily Le Monde editorialised on China's
backward progress. It affirmed: "A week before the opening of the
Olympic Games which are perceived by the regime in Beijing as a grand
rendezvous with history, one is forced to notice that the promises
made have not been implemented. For months, arrests and condemnations
of human rights supporters, activists and journalists have occurred
at a frightening rhythm."

Even for the Internet, the International Olympic Committee had to
acknowledge that China has not allowed free access to thousands of
journalists who will cover the Olympics and this, despite repeated
promises that the foreign news media could 'report freely' during the
Games. Last month only, Rogge had told Agence France-Presse: "For the
first time, foreign media will be able to report freely and publish
their work freely in China. There will be no censorship on the Internet."

But the facts are different: in the Olympic Village press center,
reporters are unable to access hundreds of web pages. All sites
related to the Tibetan issue, Taiwanese independence, the 1989
protests on Tiananmen Square as well as the sites of Radio Free Asia
and several of Hong Kong are forbidden.

A high-ranking Olympic committee official explained that China had to
continue to censor these sites as they contain "propaganda harmful to
national security and social stability of the People's Republic."
Beijing confirmed that they "would not allow foreign journalists to
visit websites that violated Chinese laws". But this was not the rule
of the Olympics when Beijing was awarded the hosting of the Games in July 2001.

The highest human ideals enunciated by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the
founder of the Modern Games in 1896, have long been forgotten. Money
has reigned supreme over the organisation of this world event.

As the Games are going to be declared opened, a question comes
immediately to mind: "Where have all the lofty ideals gone?"

It is very unfortunate that the spirit which presided over the
revival of the ancient Olympics Games seem to belong to a bygone era.

Wherever one looks, Coubertin's words seem to have been forgotten.
Take the Olympic Motto, "Faster, Higher, Stronger," which has
recently taken an unexpected significance. Mr Qin Yizhi, the
Communist Party boss in Lhasa declared: "Encouraged by the Olympic
spirit of faster, higher, stronger, Lhasa people of all nationalities
will... resolutely smash the Dalai clique's scheme to destabilize Tibet."

The motto selected for the Games by Courbertin had a different meaning.

Fortius (stronger) referred to the field of sport. The body had to be
trained by repeated exercises to become healthier and stronger.

Citius (swifter) was connected with literary and scientific studies
and the domain of the mind in general which had to be constantly
educated like the body.

Altius (higher) had a deeper meaning connected with the sacred, with
the soul or God, whatever name one gives it.

In other words, the motto meant 'a healthy mind in a healthy body'
aspiring to the highest values men can think of. Today, the Chinese
leaders want to show the world that they are economically the
strongest nation and that they can smash any dissidence without any
world leader objecting to it.

Paradoxically, the man credited with the restoration of the Olympic
Games remains a famous unknown. Pierre de Coubertin was not an
ordinary man; he has been described as an organizer, a pedagogue, a
historian, a sportsman, a writer, an aesthete, and more than anything
else a visionary, a man of action and a great humanist.

One of his biographers, described him thus: "Small in stature, with
lively eyes and a high-pitched and reedy voice, smiling mischievously
behind his large moustache, Coubertin was an idealist who succeeded
in putting a great number of his ideas into action."

His work consists of more than 12,000 printed pages, comprising 1,350
books, brochures and articles. He liked to call himself a
'rebel'.  Though very few understood his revolutionary vision, in
1894 he began the process to restore the ancient quadrennial Olympic
Games by founding the IOC at a function at the Sorbonne University in
Paris. Two years later, the first Games of the modern era were held
in Athens. Till 1925, Coubertin would remain the president of the IOC.

Main objective

But the Baron was first and foremost a pedagogue; his main objective,
through the Games and other projects was to "build men."

His four principles of Olympism were: Olympism was a religion which
adheres to an ideal of a superior life and aspires for perfection; it
had to represent the moral qualities of chivalry in a totally
egalitarian way; it had to institute a world truce during the
quadrennial 'human spring'; and finally to glorify beauty through
another event, the Games of Arts and Thoughts.

Unfortunately 'superior life' and 'moral chivalry' have today been
replaced by commercialism and utilitarianism. Who remembers today
that during the ancient Olympic Games the prizes were olive wreaths,
palm branches and woolen ribbons? In 1931, at the age of 69,
Coubertin published his "unfinished symphony" or Olympic Memoirs in
which he emphasized the intellectual, moral and philosophical nature
of the Olympic Movement. His idea was to confer to the IOC a much
larger role than just a sports events' organizer; the Olympic Games
were be a part of larger design to use sport as a radical new means
of revolutionizing education and humanity. But how many in India, in
China or elsewhere understand this today?

As with the Internet, China may grab a large number of medals, but
one medal Beijing will certainly not get is the Medal for Olympism.

The writer is an expert on China-Tibet relations and author of The
Fate of Tibet

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