Monday, April 14, 2008

Olympic protest

I’ve always been a fan of the Olympics, both the summer and winter games. I love seeing the remarkable feats of strength and endurance, the feats that human beings are capable of doing. Such wonderful examples of the physical capability we possess always leaves me with a feeling of awe.

The purity of the Olympics, unfortunately, has been too tainted by the politicizing of the games in the past and now again even before the opening ceremonies of this year’s Olympiad in Beijing. To go along with those wondrous feats of physical prowess we have too often been subjected to the political rantings of opponents to the policies of participating countries. Such a grand platform is irresistible to the various factions that want to bring their causes to the global stage, getting the kind of attention that helps to legitimize their protests.

The Olympic Torch relay that spans the globe leading up to the summer games has become the latest grand event for those with any protest on their agenda. Recent protests in London, Paris, and San Francisco have grabbed the headlines away from what is intended as an inspiring lead up to the games in Beijing. What should be a cause for celebrating the union of all the world’s citizens in common effort instead has become an occasion for divisive protests over the alleged human rights transgressions of host, China.

I am sure that the Olympic governing body was well aware of China’s history. It seems a bit naïve to think that China would suddenly change course and adhere to the standard of human rights that is written into the Olympic charter.

This is not to say that those human rights abuses aren’t real. China has a long and dismal record in that area. My concern, or protest, is that the Olympics should be above those political rantings. They should be a celebration of the competition between people of extraordinary physical prowess, not a celebration of the countries who send participants to the games. It would be far better to have all the athletes compete for their own glory rather than for the glory of the flag that flies behind them on the victory stand.

Unfortunately, the games have a long history of playing the political one-upsmanship card. Hitler used the 1936 Berlin games to push the Nazi theory of Aryan supremacy. The 1972 Games in Munich were a deadly and horrific example of how far political protest can go when Palestinian terrorists slaughtered Israeli athletes. The 1980 Moscow Olympics suffered the boycott of the US in an ill-conceived protest over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. While in more recent times, the Games seem to be more and more a counting contest involving medals won by a country’s athletes and how the higher the number the more prestige that country gains. That kind of chauvinism is as deplorable as any overt protest dreamed up by militant extremists.

I don’t need a newscast filled with the latest protests over the Chinese rape of Tibet or the genocide in Darfur accompanying the Olympic Torch as it makes its way around the world. I don’t need a group of protesters using the Olympics to call my attention to what is wrong in the world. I don’t need or want those protesters to sully and demean the Olympics with their chanting of slogans and waving of banners. I would much prefer that the Olympics be a refuge, however short, from such rabble rousing.

So while I will still enjoy the athletic accomplishments of my fellow human beings, I will ignore protesting voices and the flag waving and anthem playing part that follows each contest. That will be my kind of protest.

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