A Slice of Life

commentary on issues in politics, culture, environment and technology

09 Aug 08 Sport and Politics: The Beijing Olympics

aryans, berlin olympics 1936 Rene Roch, president of International Fencing Federation (FIE), said in Beijing Friday that the Olympics should not be mingled with politics. “No one should capitalize on the IOC to boycott the games,” Roch told Xinhua in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the 2008 FIE World Championships, which kicked off in Beijing on Friday. “We should look ahead in a long term and avoid conflicts,” he said. source: Xinhua

Many commentators have echoed this sentiment; wouldn’t it be nice if we could just enjoy the games and avoid all the political unpleasantness. If only the issue was so simple. In May 1931 the IOC decided that the 1936 Olympic games would be held in Berlin, Germany. This was a great moment for Germany; it gave them a chance to show the world how great and powerful they believed they were. For some people in Germany, like the rising Nazi party, this was also a chance to show the world that the Aryan race was superior to all other races. (Hitler was incredibly annoyed when Jesse Owens’ achievements contradicted this). While the Chinese can’t quite be compared to the Nazis, their motivation is similar; to increase national prestige and to promote trade. source: Bloodshed and Politics Over the Olympic Rings

hitler, berlin olympics 1936During the rebel cricket tours of South Africa in the 1980s, most players used the ‘let’s keep politics out of sport’ excuse to justify their involvement. The South African government’s involvement in the tours was politically motivated. The matches served a propaganda purpose, helped to split the solidarity of the international campaign of isolating South Africa, and satisfied white South Africans’ desire for international sport.

The fact is that involvement in international events and politics is inextricably linked. Involvement tacitly supports the policies of a regime. The decision to award the 1936 Olympics to a country with a human rights record like Germany now seems highly questionable. A more politically aware approach to such decisions is essential. Boycotting the games might not be the answer, but raising human rights issues is a moral responsibility.

Anyone who watched the coverage of the opening ceremony would realise that the olympics is indeed not about politics, or sport. It is about the sydication of television coverage. Athletes have to pass through media cordons before reaching events and there are more commercials than action.

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08 Aug 08 Beijing haze

beijing birdsnest stadium in smogBeijing Olympics organisers have denied manipulating pollution statistics as thick smog worsens in the Chinese capital during the lead up to the opening ceremony. Climate change sceptics may quibble as much as they like, images like this one of the birdsnest stadium in Beijing are surely evidence enough for anyone that the environment is in a great deal of trouble.

While humidity has undoubtedly played a part in the recent build up of smog, air pollution levels have been more than twice the level considered acceptable. According to World Bank statistics, outdoor air pollution in China causes 350,000 to 400,000 premature deaths each year. (The World Bank also reports that 16 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in China.) For a lifelong Beijing resident, to look at a building whose edges are blunted by smog is, in effect, to consider your own mortality. China and India, the only two countries to have a population greater than 1 billion, together possess more than a third of the world’s population. China is now the world’s biggest carbon emitter ahead of the US. Considering the booming economic growth of these countries, levels of pollution are hardly likely to decrease any time soon. Whether climate change is real or not, the fact remains that we are poisoning the planet at an alarming rate.

Climate change sceptics seem very reluctant to acknowledge their own scepticism. They are aware that considerable numbers of people are very concerned about damage to the environment. Environmentally sceptical politicians are all too aware that scepticism has become electoral poison and now couch their inaction and stalling tactics in terms such as ‘getting things economically right’. John Howard described himself as a ‘climate change realist’ and didn’t fare too well. In the longer term, no one will profit from a poisoned planet. People are now accepting that short term sacrifices are the price we must pay for future survival.

I doubt too many athletes are looking forward to competing in the Beijing haze. The whole world might soon be competing to catch a breath as it engulfs the planet.

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