Well, I’ve finally made a decision regarding the Olympic Torch Relay and China’s hosting of the Games this summer, and whether or not they should be protested. I’ve been wavering back and forth between thinking the world should admonish the awarding of such an event to a country whose human rights record is beyond abysmal, and thinking that sports should remain “pure” and free from political nonsense.
I wake up almost every morning to CBC radio’s “The Current.” It’s a great current affairs show that often tackles controversial topics with great gusto. This morning, they had on one of the Chinese chairpersons of the Torch Relay who was trying to defend the Games against the protesters. She was up against a University of Toronto professor who had a pretty solid argument in favour of protest.
The chairperson was trying to argue that politics and sports should be kept separate. Note that this very defence doesn’t even attempt to counter the arguments against the human rights issues; it just tries to hide them in the corner of the international boxing ring. The U of T professor countered with some pretty strong arguments which have – at least for the time being – convinced me solidly. So here’s why I’m standing in opposition of this summer’s Games in China:
1. The Modern Olympic Games have always been a politically motivated event. They were created in part to re-establish France’s political superiority in the wake of the Franco-Prussian war. This is a fascinating history – you should read more about it.
2. It is ridiculous to assert that even now the games aren’t political. Athletes don’t represent themselves, they represent their countries. And when they win, their national anthem is played and their nation’s flag is flown. And then, when they return home to their country, they are lauded and admired as national heroes.
And my own arguments:
3.The very fact that people in China right now have no idea that the world is protesting their government speaks volumes.
4. If we begin to compartmentalize such sensitive and volatile issues as Human Rights, we risk compromising our own values and ethics. Even if these Games weren’t a political event, which clearly they are, they still should have be protested. Protesting human rights abuses in China but attending or supporting the Games is doublespeak.
The world is giving tacit approval for China to continue its torrid abuse of basic human rights. Is this surprising? Of course not. Western governments continue to trade with China and act as if nothing is wrong because it suits their wallets and their political egos. Why expect anything different when it comes to sports?
Excellent! Another reason that it’s impossible to separate politics and sports is that in most countries, including Canada, funding for training, facilities and so on comes at least in part from the government.
One positive that comes from the groundswell of protests, is that maybe, just maybe, the world is awakening to the reality of human rights abuses in China. Nevertheless, I’m not naive enough to think that we’ll stop trading with China, but we can hope that it will get to the point that it is impossible to turn a blind eye to the abuse.