The cause of human rights suffered a severe blow the past fortnight, and no one will mention that fact in Denver at the Democratic Convention this week or at the Republican Convention in St. Paul next week. The issue did not come up in discussions of Sen. Joe Biden’s storied foreign policy credentials. And Mr. Straight Talk Express, John McCain, has not run a single ad on the matter.
Beijing hosted a "successful" Olympics. The president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, said so, following in a long line of IOC presidents whose moral compass is deficient. The President of the United States attended the Opening Ceremonies, giving his blessing to the proceedings. While NATO’s commitment to democracy was shouted in the face of Russian aggression, the less bombastic, but more effective, anti-democratic tactics of the Chinese regime received no rebuke from Paris, or London, or Brussels.
The feats of the athletes were stellar, and the entertainment was riveting. Why rain on such a beautiful parade? Because the price was terribly high. A regime that systematically represses any and all dissent, that denies basic freedoms, including religious freedom, to its citizens, that spends millions on fireworks but tolerates (far from view) wrenching poverty in its provinces, that regime was the beneficiary of what amounted to a two week-long commercial for the benefits of totalitarianism. The trains ran on time at Beijing, we all got to watch Mark Phelps and Shawn Johnson and Kobe Bryant do America proud, so it was deemed inopportune to make a fuss about the Chinese government’s evil ways.
I am not a moral theologian, so I do not know if the lazy manner in which the rest of the world looked the other way at Chinese repression amounts to a formal cooperation with evil. I do know that in my own soul I looked forward to turning on the Olympics every night and watching the athletic prowess of the world’s youth. But, it is a shame that no one pointed out that the Chinese government, when it sought to be awarded the Olympics six years ago, promised that it would allow journalists free access to the host city and its environs, and that basic human rights would be respected. They lied.
The 2014 Games have already been awarded to Sochi, a Russian city that is a mere 15 minutes’ drive from the border with recently invaded Georgia. So, we can be promised a sequel in 6 years. The Olympic Committee will claim that sports has the ability to bring people together, but the claim recalls earlier Russian villages, those of Potemkin, the faux villages constructed in the late eighteenth century to show Empress Catherine the Great the value of her new conquests. The Potemkin villages were mere facades. So, too, the claims of international cooperation emanating from the IOC.
It is time to give the Games a permanent home to avoid both the outrageous costs of staging the spectacles and the moral winking that goes on when the Games are awarded to repressive regimes. Athens is a natural for the Summer Games and Innsbruck could serve as the permanent host city for the Winter Olympics. Inssbruck hosted the Winter Olympics in 1964 and again, on short notice, in 1976 after Denver withdrew as host that year. A permanent host city will not retard the power of repressive governments, but it will keep the rest of us from having to avert our gaze from the evil and mouth false nothings about the power of sport to humanize our world. The entire free world gets the Gold medal for hypocrisy today. It is a shame.
Michael Sean Winters