China Spells ‘Olympic Spirit’ Without ‘Politics’

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The American population’s knowledge of China is normally limited to food and Jackie Chan movies. Recently, people have been talking about something different: the upcoming 2008 Summer Olympics. Beijing won the honor of hosting the Olympics years ago, and in six months China hopes to introduce itself as a leading global power.
The road to the Olympics is proving to be rockier than Chinese and Olympic officials anticipated. Since the events occur on a global stage, people are using the games as a chance to publicly criticize China’s policies. Many people believe that China has influence over the Sudanese government, and many athletes have spoken out by protesting that China needs to do more to address Darfur’s climbing death toll. Steven Spielberg has dropped out as artistic advisor for the opening and closing ceremonies because he feels that China has done little to press the Sudanese government for peace.
The Chinese government has responded with its usual middle-finger-to-the-world approach. The government’s press releases are vague and cryptic, and do little to alleviate tension. The government-owned newspapers openly mock Spielberg by claiming that he lives in a ‘sci-fi’ world. The government’s only clear message is that political motivations are not in line with the spirit of the Olympics.
I have bad news, sports fans: The government is right. Dating back to Ancient Greece, the Olympics were never meant to be an arena for political brawls or social upheavals. The games exist to promote global unity via healthy competition. Since their revival in 1896, political, social and racial conflict has been frowned upon.
Despite their intentions, the games have become highly political. Hitler tried to use them to show that Germany was the dominant world power and that Aryans were the greatest race on Earth. Fortunately, African-American athletes shoved that dream where the sun don’t shine. Decades later, during the heat of the Cold War, the United States and its allies boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. Four years later, the Soviet Union and its comrades returned the favor.
Since the Olympics are political, it is logical to work in reality and use them to our advantage. The Olympic world stage is enormous. It is tempting to compromise a set of morals that a bunch of silly idealists created over a century ago, especially if the rules have already been broken dozens of other times.
However, we should not try to use the Olympics to forward our political and social ideals. We should live as if the world is as it should be. Set the example, go to the Olympics and promote this crazy idea of human togetherness. We cannot expect others to stop doing wrong if we don’t stop doing wrong ourselves.
Perhaps we have an obligation to speak up if it will prevent unnecessary death. The truth is that we have to choose our battles. It is unlikely that China will change its policies overnight because one or two million more protestors join the fight. Even if China does change its policies, it will take months, even years of pressure to change the world. It is better to take the first step toward an event that fosters togetherness rather than cling to divisiveness over political issues.
Beijing is already being criticized for Darfur, but the protests do not end there. Prince Charles is using the Olympics to advocate the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. Beijing’s air pollution has prompted thousands of environmentalists to speak out about the games. Athletes are wearing protective masks.
We will never be able to draw the line about what to protest. If a group speaks out against political action on one side of the globe, then another group will talk about racism somewhere else. Eventually, the world will become too divided to come together at the games.
While China’s government has unfairly pushed out the Dalai Lama, censored free speech and done little to ensure peace around the world, the Olympics are not the place to discuss those actions. The great games are meant to be the one time when the world’s nations can come together and peacefully compete without political, social or racial turmoil.

Kevin Pease is a third-year psychology and social behavior major. He can be reached at kpease@uci.edu.

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