China, Wrong Choice?
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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW. And this is The Score.
Back in the summer of 2001, the International Olympic Committee was reeling under revelations that the members who traveled the globe to select Olympic host cities had been more expert at accepting bribes than discerning world-class sports venues and adequate public transportation. The details of lavish gifts accepted over the decades unraveled like an eye-popping night-time soap opera. IOC members, it turned out, had been for decades accepting penthouse vacations, hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, piles of diamonds, and even surgeries for their families. The story of intrigue had legs. It commanded front page space for nearly a year. Many members were disgraced, fined, and dismissed. The Olympic image was tarnished and a public relations campaign to clean up the city selection process promised to base every future choice on empirical bid submissions, not personal favors.
At the precise moment that the IOC crisis climaxed, that scandalous summer of 2001, they were in the process of selecting the host of this year's summer Games and IOC reform was stringent. Technically, and perhaps truthfully, Beijing could go down in history as the first Olympic city to be chosen without even a hint of a bribe by government officials. Beijing presented their plans for airport expansion, athlete village blueprints, a beautifully and uniquely designed natatorium. And a solid factor within the Beijing package was their promise to come up to worldwide standards of human rights during the seven years they had before hosting the Games. There was dissension among the IOC ranks when Beijing surfaced as the front-runner, to be sure. Those against Beijing brought in the Dalai Lama who referred to China's actions against Tibet as "cultural genocide." In the end, the majority of the IOC vote went to Beijing, driven by two overwhelming sentiments. One, it was time to shine the Olympic spotlight on the largest nation in the world. Two, there was a bold and direct promise that China would, in prepping for their magnificent party, evolve their human rights stance to the point that they would be model citizens of Olympic ideals.
Those seven years have now passed, China's human rights violations have not wavered, the Games are a scant four months away, and a string of disruptive protests are already popping up on pretty much a daily basis.
This week, the president of France said he would consider having French athletes boycott the Opening Ceremonies. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested this week that President Bush not attend Opening Ceremonies as that is the time the host country showcases its culture, more so than its athletes. Chinese officials have recently arrested protesters at the Tibet border, some of the marchers evidently physically tortured. India's soccer captain refuses to carry the torch in the global Olympic relay to protest China's imposed will in Tibet. As the torch reached Greece last weekend, demonstrators carried Free Tibet banners in front of the Acropolis. Citizens are still imprisoned for opposing government policies. The worldwide press is pressuring China to drop their Internet censorship system so that the 30,000 journalists expected in Beijing in August can work without firewall blocks to web access, yet the firewalls continue as of this date.
It's ironic, isn't it? Beijing is the first squeaky clean Olympics, in terms of the selection process. No bribes. No cash under the table. Voting for Beijing was history, in that it was an honest vote. Yet the densely layered pollution that envelops Beijing all day long serves as a metaphor for the upcoming three weeks in China that will no doubt be anything but squeaky clean.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.
Protesters hold a demonstration urging US President George W. Bush to cancel his plans to attend the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing because of the situation in Tibet during a protest at Lafayette Park across the street from the White House in Washington, DC. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images