Monday, April 14, 2008

Olympic ideal

If I see or hear another person saying that if the Olympics hadn't been awarded to China there wouldn't be this chance to highlight the oppression of Tibet and put pressure on the regime to change its policies, I'll be tempted to scream.

It's like putting a rapist in charge of a beauty pageant as long as they promise to behave themselves. Is this the new international diplomacy? Forget the UN and Amnesty International: let's give Zimbabwe the World Cup so that we can put pressure on Robert Mugabe to release the election results; or maybe a joint bid by Israel and Palestine.

Every parent knows what happens if you give out the goodies first on the promise of good behaviour later. It is beyond naive not to think that once the sugar rush of the Olympics has died down that China will revert grumpily to its normal bad behaviour.

I have complete sympathy with the competitors for whom this is the pinnacle of their sport and possibly their best chance to reach these heights of achievement and recognition. But let's not muddle the great sporting event of the Olympic Games with the purely symbolic (or shambolic) spectacle of the torch relay. This seems to me an entirely appropriate forum for protest and the more it is disrputed and shown for the hypocritical farce that it is the better. Remember, this is not a race of the best athletes from each country, this is a procession of those who have already achieved greatness being patted on the back by their country (again - as most of them have already had their achievements recognised). I don't think the careers of SIR Steve Redgrave or DAME Kelly Holmes are going to be ruined by being made to look a bit silly. That they consider it an honour to carry something which is supposed to stand for the spirit of fair play on behalf of a state which tends to stamp on opposition before it can get its running shoes on says much about the shallowness of their thinking. Sport and politics shouldn't be mixed they say having spent the last two years extolling the virtues for our country of the Games coming to London - like raising our profile on the world stage, giving British companies the chance to promote themselves (or to use the current rhettoric: to allow the rest of the world to put pressure on Britain to do... what? Leave Iraq? Join the Euro? Drive on the right?) 'What's sauce for the goose...' as they say. And doesn't that completely contradict the justification of putting pressure on the hosts?

Extinguishing the torch was a good start - symbolising the lives snuffed out in Tibet. I like the idea of the alternative torch procession in Argentina. This could be taken a stage further: let's have hundreds of replica torches so that the real one is lost in the crowd. To increase the visual effect, let's all dress up in blue tracksuits like the Chinese minders. It's that or ignore it altogether, but that, as Amnesty International will testify, is why oppression goes unnoticed and unpunished. Thank goodness China got the Olympics or we never would have noticed.