Seething in an Apathy of Olympic Proportions

We’re getting closer to the start of the Olympics. Which means we’re getting closer to the start of my self-imposed boycott of anything Olympic-related. Here’s a rundown of what I’m (not) doing:

I won’t be watching the games or any of the related ceremonies.

I won’t be purchasing or using products/services from any of the Olympic sponsors.

I won’t be taking joy in Canadian or Israeli medal wins… as unlikely as they may be.

Why all this? This is no empty-threat, hippie bandwaggon protest of anything China-related. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the significance of how we personally relate to something like the Olympics, and I believe that corporations, governments, some celebrities, and a very select group of organizations can affect a tangible change. Outside of that, very few individuals can look forward to making a noticable difference. So I admit that my personal boycott isn’t going to have worldwide ripples. Even as part of larger boycotts, these protests won’t have the necessary politcal ramifications that I wish they could have. There’s just too much worlwide tether to China, and people don’t seem to want to bite the hand that feeds them… no matter how tainted the food is.

But I don’t eat foods that I think will disagree with my body, and I’m not going to injest any part of these games. I’m no apathetic cynic, and I’m not going to resign myself to sit back and let things be the way they are “just because.” I humbly suggest that you don’t either.

Here’s a short recap of why I’m taking a political stance on this one… As I noted a few months ago when I came to this decision, it’s based on a few personal realizations and decisions:

1. The olympics are inherently a political event. To suggest otherwise is nonsense. They were formed out of political motivation, and remain a nationalized institution. To that extent, they merit a political response.

2. It is fair to hold our athletes to a higher standard. I believe that the Canadian olympic team should have withdrawn from these games. By participating, they are making a tacit statement that protesting human rights violations and the neglect of civil, social, political, and labour justices takes a back seat to the advancement of personal goals. It’s just plain egotistical.

3. My tax dollars have gone to fund the Canadian team. This is not where I want my government money going.

Intriguingly, our Prime Minister has decided not to attend the Games, and will be joined in his absence by the British PM and German Chancellor. Also, since being elected in 2006, he hasn’t travelled to China, and has decreased our trading relationship with them. I’m no fan of the Conservatives, but the dude’s got it right.

Among all this talk of boycott, President Bush spoke up from his cave and said that a personal boycott “would be an affront to the Chinese people.” Nu? Isn’t that the point? China’s abuses are an affront to the world; the least we can do is step up in their faces. Props to Harper for at least getting that much into his head.

Outside of my mildly apathetic disdain, you can find a humourous look at these olympics, check out Dawn Ponders, who, among other things, has this to say:

…Let me get this straight – The Olympic Games are supposed to celebrate the best in sport and fitness and two of it’s major sponsors are McDonald’s and Coca Cola? Together, these two companies have added more inches to the waistlines of the world than any designer I can think of.

Relaying Political Messages

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?