29 March 2008

Olympics Politics

I find the notion that the Olympics are a politics free zone pretty much completely absurd. After all, the entire enterprise (oops! did I use the wrong word?) is organized around nations competing with one another. Sure, the athletes and teams compete individually, but their performance contributes to the all-important "medal count." And they march behind their national flag. And there always are questions about whether the games should be held in this or that location, given this or that reprehensible practice or policy of the host country. Those questions are completely legitimate. The difficulty is how one ought to respond.

There already has been talk of boycotts with respect to the upcoming summer Olympics in Beijing. Nicolas Sarkozy, he who now accompanies the beautiful wife, has suggested that the French might boycott the opening ceremonies. German Chancellor Angela Merkle has announced she will not attend the opening. I wonder, though, if the strategy being pushed by Reporters without Borders might not be a more useful one. They are asking those planning to attend the Olympics to wear one of these badges - inscribed with the Chinese characters spelling "Freedom." I suspect that actual politicians like Sarkozy or Merkle would find speaking out in even this muted way more strenuous than staying away. But imagine if thousands and more visitors began wearing the badges around Beijing this summer. Of course, the Chinese authorities might simply ignore the buttons, thereby seeking to display their political openness and tolerance. I doubt they could keep up the charade with any consistency. And there is always the problem that they could point back at those visiting from countries whose governments sanction practices like torture and secret rendition or that flaunt international law in all sorts of ways.

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