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Editorial: The Games leave Beijing - China carries on as before

August 27, 2008

The Gazette (Montreal, Canada)
August 26, 2008

Never mind the medal count. What China really won at these Olympic
Games was a vindication of the government's totalitarian stranglehold
on China's society. And that is just what China's rulers wanted.

Journalists and diplomats alike tell us these Games have been a
source of fierce pride at every level of Chinese society. Logistics
at the Olympic sites were by all accounts impeccable, and China's own
athletes made a record number of trips to the podium to collect
prestigious Olympic hardware. The government has calculated that
these successes will be remembered long after the broken promises on
human rights, on freedom of the press, on dissent, have been
forgotten like the residents displaced to build the Bird's Nest.

Already the rulers seem to have won their bet. "The world has rested
its trust in China," said organizing committee chairman Liu Qi.
Precisely: The Olympics Games have been made a prop for totalitarian
power. "The whole world trusted us to run the Games and respects what
we have done, and how we did it," is the message for China's people.
"So you must respect and trust us too."

But if the Chinese had a successful Olympics, the International
Olympic Committee did not. Yes, the networks and sponsors paid record
amounts. Yes, the IOC nomenklatura enjoyed lovely hotel suites and
fine parties. But the IOC, to its shame, barely murmured as the
Chinese government serenely ignored one promise of openness after
another. The unruffled efficiency with which China blocked websites,
arrested critics, and smothered any hint of dissent suggests strongly
that the government never had any intention of honouring those pledges.

"Through these Games the world learned more about China," IOC
President Jacques Rogge told the closing ceremony, "and China learned
more about the world." That second part is true in a limited sense:
China learned that the rest of the world can be out-negotiated with ease.

Rogge, whose ridiculous hectoring of Jamaica's Usain Bolt made many
wonder how he clings to his office, will be remembered as badly for
that as for selling Olympic legitimacy to a regime that crushes
dissent. Sport can certainly grasp the public imagination better than
some locked-away dissidents.

Now the Games are over, the athletes have dispersed, and Tibet is
still as before, China still censors, human rights seem farther away
than ever. So much for the impact of international sport on society.
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