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 I believe that the Canadian olympic team should have withdrawn from these games.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?

Antioxidant Writing

CBC Radio had a programme on this morning which was discussing how the Canadian Chinese media is covering the current crisis in Tibet. While the press here obviously enjoys much more autonomy than it does in China (“Hello? Can anyone in China see this website?”), apparently Tibetan protesters are being referred to as “rioters,” and the violent Chinese crackdown on these “rioters” is being referred to as the “restoring of order.”

Ok. So I’m not on the ground in Tibet and I don’t have the ability to judge this situation with 100% impartiality and objectivity, but it seems to me as though the cloak of Chinese state censorship has extended to the far reaches of their Diaspora. While I obviously think that this is probably not the best way that the Chinese Canadian media should enjoy their freedom of press, I’m not educated enough on the intricacies of the whole affair to offer any conclusive argument. My opinion is that Chinese Canadians who enjoy rights ensured by Canada should make use of them and speak up. And maybe they are… a cursory Google search for “Chinese Canadian criticism of China” did yield some results, although none from any Chinese Canadian media outlets. A good blog commentary on the issue can be found here.

Of course, one thing led to another, and I started personalizing the issue. I live in a Diaspora, too. Does not living in our ancestral homeland affect the way the Jewish media writes about Israel? Apparently it does…

Larry Cohler-Esses, who has been the editor of the Jewish Student Press Service, has worked for The Washington Jewish Week, The Jewish Week (New York), and has been dispatched worldwide (to Syria and Yemen, no less) had this to say in a 2004 interview on the Jewish press:

“People don’t read Jewish newspapers for the reason they read regular newspapers. People read regular newspapers to get information, whether they agree with the paper or not. People read Jewish newspaper to affirm their sense of identity. Often that means you are writing articles that people don’t particularly want to know about.

“If you want to know to know about Israel, you can get most of your information from The New York Times and the Washington Post. You read the Jewish newspapers to get your sense of Israel’s rightness and correctness in the world affirmed.”


Are we employing self-censorship here in Canada and the US? What happened to “Two Jews, Three Views”? I’ve often complained that the Canadian Jewish News is not exactly the most newsworthy paper in the country. To be sure, there’s more criticism in the Israeli media of politics, military actions, and internal social affairs, not to mention culture, sports and the regular skewering of fellow Jews. You get the idea. Even the Jerusalem Post has a more nuanced collection of articles than the New York Jewish Week, or the Canadian Jewish News – the largest Canadian Jewish weekly. A quick look through the “Israel,” “News,” and “Politics,” sections of these sites provides more than enough evidence. For a people who have been at the forefront of championing the mainstream, secular media, we’re doing a pretty shoddy job of ensuring journalistic integrity in our own newspapers.

Like with Tibet, I don’t purport to offer any conclusive solution. But I do believe that perhaps salvation lies in people continuing to read what independent Jewish journalists have to say, i.e. read (and write) blogs. The variety of opinion is healthy for the mind. We’re like the dark fruits and vegetables in the produce section. Full of antioxidants.


In other news (extremely relevant to me today), apparently Shakespeare’s plays were not written by Shakespeare, nor were they written by another man named Shakespeare. One woman claims to have evidence that Shakespeare’s plays were written by a Jewish woman.