Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Politics & the Torch

As I write this the Olympics Torch is touring my city. Or at least I assume it is. I hear the helicopters overhead, so that’s a good sign – or not, depending on your point of view.

Here’s mine: I think using the Olympics as an excuse to protest bad things China has done or is doing is ridiculous. It’s a mistake that will lead neither to a free Tibet nor a reduction in human rights violations by the Chinese. It won’t reduce the amount of lead in the toys they make. It won’t end genocide in Darfur. And all the rest . . .

Am I saying the Chinese should not be confronted, chastised and pressured to change their ways? No, I didn’t say that. I’m saying that making the Olympics the catalyst for these protests is inappropriate and counterproductive.

I’m not naïve about the Olympics being free of politics. The games have been used to further political agendas at least since 1936 when Hitler was the host. Probably even the original contests back in ancient Greece weren’t free of politics; I don’t know for sure. But in recent times – with the protests, the boycotts, the terrorism – they’ve been an excuse to further some cause or other.

It gets even worse when the politicians get on board. Will George Bush attend the Opening Ceremonies? Maybe. Or maybe he won’t attend them but will show up later to support our boys and girls in red, white and blue. Or maybe he’ll do both. Or neither. What we see are the world-class panderers outdoing themselves to pander better than the other guy. It’s enough to make you cynical.

I think there is a possibility that the Olympics can be an occasion for sport at the highest level. An opportunity to watch talented, dedicated athletes compete in a real-time drama that is seen only infrequently. It is possible. But not likely if the fundamental purpose of the games is subordinated so that a variety of favorite causes can be promoted.

I’ll learn later today or tomorrow how the Torch did here in San Francisco. I hope it has a peaceful ride. I hope the stories are about what the Torch really symbolizes. Will that happen? No. The stories will be about the protests and disruptions. What is important will be lost in the sound and fury. And what do I say about that? What a shame.

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