Beijing Olympics

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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

Steven Spielberg withdrew from his position as Artistic Advisor to the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics last week. Spielberg's statement was that he could not square his conscience with China's continued financial support of the Sudanese government, given the ongoing genocide in Darfur. Individuals and groups around the world have long been urging China to cease selling weapons to Sudan and to stop purchasing two-thirds of Sudan's oil sales. But now the Olympic ideals are held as high as the Olympic torch and used as the backdrop for these political protests.

In the coming six months, leading to the Summer Games, there will no doubt be a swelling of protests around Chinese political policies. Actress Mia Farrow, Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others just this week pressed President Hu Jintao to withdraw all funding of Sudan.

There is actually an article in the official Olympic charter that forbids organized protests on site during a Games. After all, the very raison d'etre of the Ancient Olympics was to stop warring and politicking throughout the world while athletes of all nations raced each other and at least temporarily embraced the collective ideals of sport. By the time the modern Olympics revived in 1896, however, three weeks of pageantry and athletic glory with the whole world watching became much too big a stage for protestors to ignore.

Montreal, 1976. South Africa had been banned from the Games since 1964 for its continued apartheid. When Montreal came about, New Zealand's champion rugby team was touring South Africa and 25 African nations banded to request that Montreal exclude New Zealand from the Games. They were denied and the 25 countries boycotted.

We will never forget the Palestinian “statement” in taking hostage and killing most of the Israeli team at the Munich Games in '72. And of course the iconic photograph of political statement at the Games was that moment of John Carlos and Tommy Smith raising two black gloves atop the medal platforms in Mexico City, 1968—their defiant protest of racism at home.

The difference this time is that the host country itself is the target of the protests. The Chinese support of Sudan and hence the Darfur atrocities is the central issue but China's domestic human rights policies have also long been criticized by humanitarian groups worldwide. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch prioritize action against Chinese practices of detaining citizens without reason, of suppressing free speech and free press, of sentencing criminals without due process, of child labor abuses.

I had the opportunity to interview the Chinese ambassador to the U.S. about ten years ago. When I started down a road of questioning him about human rights issues, he politely pointed out that if he rounded up 100 random Chinese people---wealthy businessmen, poor rice farmers, men, women, old, young---and brought them to tour nursing homes across America, they would consider us heinous violators of human rights. A point well taken. But the Olympic moment is not the time to consider a laissez-faire stance toward another culture's way of living. Protests are going to mount as August approaches because those dedicated to change in China know that there will never be a more opportunistic moment. The Olympics are a huge Public Relations investment and China will work hard to keep from being embarrassed over the course of the Games. If Mia Farrow wants to gain President Jintao's ear, now's the time.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.



Diana Nyad