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Archive for Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Olympics could be new tool of diplomacy

July 24, 2001

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So China has been awarded the Olympics in 2008. Let the celebration begin! See you in Beijing in seven years, right? No? I didn't think so.

If you're like me it's awfully hard for you to get excited about visiting a place that still imprisons, tortures and murders its own citizens for speaking out in favor of democracy or for practicing their religion.

Imagine the fun of visiting historic Tiananmen Square, where the communist government sent in tanks to squelch a massive democracy demonstration 1989. "Look Martha, here's the spot where the tanks ran over that protester. We saw it on CNN, remember? Get a picture of me here!"

China is not a place most of us would consider visiting unless there is significant change in the Chinese government's attitude toward basic human rights, and some people seem to think that awarding them the Olympics will help to usher in such a change. I hope they are right, but history is not on their side.

Similar sentiments were expressed when Germany hosted the Games in 1936. Hitler was in the midst of implementing his policy of Aryan supremacy and had already started spreading his vile hatred of Jews. Although the U.S. considered boycotting that year, we participated in the hope that opening up Germany to the rest of the world might temper their objectionable social policies.

Although Hitler did end up being embarrassed by the failure of his Aryan super athletes to dominate the Games (a decidedly non-Aryan Jesse Owens took home four gold medals) the Olympics did nothing to slow his program of repression. Only the sacrifice of many thousands of young men's lives would eventually accomplish that.

Of course, this is not 1936 and China is not Nazi Germany. Maybe this time the policy of engagement will bear better fruit, in spite of the fact that our dogged pursuit of this line of thinking in the economic realm has had no noticeable effect on China's human rights track record.

But let's be optimistic. Perhaps the bright light of the Olympic torch shining on Beijing will do the trick and China will start behaving like a good world citizen. If it does, we might want to consider using the "Olympic solution" on other rogue nations around the world as a means of encouraging the reform of their repressive governments.

I would think Iraq would be a very strong candidate for the 2012 Games. Surely Saddam would behave himself if he knew that the world was on its way to Baghdad to see the world's best athletes perform.

Afghanistan should also be given strong consideration. Maybe they wouldn't have blown up all those ancient Buddhist statues if they had been in the running to host the Olympic Games.

And what about holding the Olympics in Jerusalem? I believe this could be a masterstroke politically. Perhaps the knowledge that the Olympic torch would be shining one day soon in that ancient city would nudge the Jews and the Palestinians to finally work out their differences.

On the other hand, maybe we should wait and see what happens in China over the next seven years before we get carried away. You can bet I'll be commenting on the situation as it develops. But I'll be doing so from my safe vantage point right here in the good old U.S.A. I won't be traveling there myself. I'm passionate, but I'm not that passionate.

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