Beijing Olympics: The Hypocrisy of "One World One Dream"

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Beijing Olympics: The Hypocrisy of
Olympics and Political Protest
As we approach the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics, it is critical that casual sports fans are reminded of the political undercurrents ensconcing these immanent Games. China has been under the microscope since Beijing was selected as the Olympics' host city in 2001. As will be delineated here, China's treatment of Tibet and their mass production of weaponry sold to countries enmeshed in violence make China an obvious site for political protest.

Although this essay is not truly about sport, it is about the world's biggest sporting event as it relates to global atrocities, and therefore, I urge you to read on and ask if China is really promoting "One World One Dream."

When it comes to the Olympic Games, political protest is nothing new. Although the Olympics may not be as popular in the United States when compared to events such as the Super Bowl, the Olympics represent one of the only times every four years when the world truly is watching. And even within the United States, the Olympics engage demographic groups who are less likely to be sports fans on a regular basis.

Most viewers of the Olympics are above age fifty (1), and parts of the Olympics Games draw immense television viewership, namely the Opening Ceremonies, while the increased broadcasting of multiple events on television enables various countries to showcase events at all hours of the day and night (2).
Because the Olympics draw such immense worldly interest, they have a historical relationship with different levels of political protest and occasionally the most extreme violence, coming in the forms of athletic greatness in the face of racism (Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Games), overt demonstration during ceremonies (John Carlos' and Tommie Smith's protest during their medal ceremony in 1968, Mexico City), taking hostage of and murdering athletes (11 Israeli athletes killed by Palestinians at the 1972 Munich Games), and factions of countries boycotting the Games as we moved into and through the Cold War in 1976, 1980, and 1984 (see also Crowe, Bleacher Report).

According to the Associated Press, because of China's international policies and economic practices, protest is a given, and perhaps not surprisingly, special protest zones have already been sectored off at a significant distance from the Olympic stadium. So what is all this protest about?

China's Invasion of Tibet
Tibet has an independent history of over 2000 years. During the 18th century, China served as a critical ally to Tibet, protecting the country and its citizenry from foreign invasion. Since the turn of the 18th century, however, China's protective relationship with Tibet reversed. In 1949, the People's Liberation Army of the People's Republic of China invaded Tibet and defeated a small Tibetan army, forcing Tibet to concede a degree of their sovereignty to China in 1951 (3). In the years following this invasion, a destruction of Tibet's culture and infrastructure ensued. Reportedly, 1.2 million Tibetans died due to China's policies, more were imprisoned, and thousands of religious institutions were crumbled (4).

China's ongoing subjugation of Tibetans has forced many to flee to India and Nepal. Reports state that in Nepal, Tibetan refugees do not find safety. They are commonly abused by Nepali authorities, who use excessive force during peaceful demonstrations, intimidate and harass journalists and human rights activists, and sexually assault Tibetan women (5). Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama (awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989), took asylum to India in 1959.

It is because of the above issues that strong protests transpired across the globe during the 20-nation Olympic torch relay, in which protesters argued China's ongoing treatment of Tibet conflicted with traditional Olympic ideals and this Olympics' motto, "One World One Dream" (6). Unfortunately, protest regarding China's economic relationships with oppressive military regimes seemed to garner less attention.

China's Sales of Mass Weaponry to Oppressive Regimes
While the history of China and Tibet is terrible, China's current relationships with abusive governments are equally if not more disturbing. In the 1970's, China began shifting its socialist economy, developing more of a capitalist model, or a "socialist market economy" that encouraged entrepreneurship and production of goods for international commerce. Among the many goods now produced for the global economy by China are weaponry of two broad categories:

1. Small arms and light weapons (e.g., handguns, AK-47 assault rifles).

2. Major conventional weapons (e.g., combat aircraft, tanks, armored vehicles, missiles and missile launchers).
While the mass production and sale of small arms may not seem terribly dangerous to some readers, a report by Amnesty International notes that "More deaths, injuries, rapes and other acts of torture, displacements of people and crime are inflicted or perpetrated with small arms than any other type of weapon." The impact of major conventional weapons in conflict is obvious.
Most of the international attention directed towards China's arms sales has focused on the country's relationship with Sudan, and rightly so.
Facilitating Ethnic Genocide in Sudan
In recent years, climate change has affected crop growth in different regions of Sudan, in particular the western Sudanese region of Darfur. Ethnic tensions over the lack of resources led starving ethnic minorities to form rebel groups--the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement--who began fighting Sudanese police and military bases for basic human rights.
In response, the Sudanese government began a campaign of genocide, enlisting militia groups known as the "Janaweed," who work in tandem with Sudanese military forces to destroy villages, usually killing the men and raping the women, who are often times also subsequently killed (Alvarez & Bachman, 2008).

Since 2005, approximately 400,000 people in Darfur have died from violence, malnutrition, or disease, while those who survive frequently seek safety in condensed refugee camps in neighboring Chad. In addition to the deaths, about 1.6 million people have been displaced from their homes.

Sudan's value to China rests in its rich oil reserves (7). Thus, for all the money China spends in purchasing Sudan's oil, Chinese weapons producers get back a portion by selling the Sudanese government arms. Military trucks, helicopters, and small arms and light weapons made in China have all been reportedly used by Sudanese military, Chadian armed group allies, and the Janaweed in the genocidal efforts (8).

Supporting Global Violence
The horror in Darfur notwithstanding, China's continued sales of weaponry to other countries in violent conflict also merit attention. Recall that in Nepal, Tibetan refugees are commonly abused by Nepali police. As one may expect, reported sales of weaponry to Nepal by China are significant.

And the weapons sales spread further. Data provided by China to the United Nations has documented the transfer of small arms and lights weapons from China to Brazil, Myanmar, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, and Sudan, and major conventional weapons to Bangladesh, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Sudan. The common thread that runs through China's international buyers of weaponry is that these countries have histories of violating human rights via armed force.

The common slogan, "Guns don't kill people. People kill people," implies that weapons play a minimal role in homicide and other forms of gun violence. However, the reality is guns and other forms of weaponry greatly facilitate those people's or groups' motivations who want to kill on either an individual or group level. In short, weapons play a major role in the perpetuation of violence. Unquestionably, weaponry plays a critical role in genocide.

Chinese weapons manufacturers profit from the motivation of those who aim to kill on mass levels and/or violate human rights in other forms. For the International Olympic Committee to have chosen China as the host country for this year's Olympic Games was bad enough. To make matters worse, reports (9,10) indicate that at present time, Chinese authorities are threatening activists and journalists who attempt to draw attention to China's unethical international partnerships.

What Can We Do?
Athletes Must Speak Out
In times when sports take center stage, we have seen the impact athletes can have on raising public consciousness. Why do athletes such as Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, and Jesse Owens remain etched in our memories? Beyond being great athletes, they stood for movements that transcend sport. And although China's international affairs may not seem a crucial domestic concern, this does not exonerate anyone from responsibility.
In the early 1970s, South Africa's apartheid system was not a significant issue for Americans. Arthur Ashe made it one. The late Ashe made it a point to play in the South African Open, but took his social responsibility beyond the tennis court. Said Ashe in his memoir, Days of Grace:
Tennis ... was only one aspect of my visits. I was eager to learn as much as I could about the conditions of people there, especially the "nonwhite" peoples held in bondage by apartheid. And there was no shortage of people, white, black, Colored, or Indian, just as eager to share with me their lifelong experience of apartheid and their vision of the future of South Africa. (p. 104).
An athlete, or better yet, a coalition of athletes, must step up. Muhammad Ali sacrificed his athletic prime, his livelihood, in order to stand by his precepts. Martina Navratilova lost out on countless sponsorships by standing up for who she was and is.

True, elite athletic success requires the utmost focus, physically and emotionally. But elite athletes have made symbolic political statements in the midst of competition and emerged in athletic glory. Recall the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Although Cathy Freeman's efforts did not radically challenge the oppression inflicted on Aborigines (Hargreaves, 2000), she did bring greater global attention to their oppression. Still, athletes will have little affect by themselves; consumers must also address these Olympics' corporate sponsors.

Address Corporate Sponsors and the International Olympic Committee (IOC)
Despite China's complicity in global violence and direct impact on Tibet, numerous companies are sponsoring the Beijing Olympic Games. Furthermore, these companies have generally shed their public responsibilities on the issues outlined above by remaining apolitical (i.e., silent). Since writing campaigns to Chinese officials would likely be ineffective and our current President and two candidates are reticent to take a strong stand on the issue (11), take a little time to write to some of the top Beijing Olympic corporate sponsors HERE (a letter is already set up for you to sign and e-mail in).

Or write to the IOC Executive Board, whose e-mail addresses can be found HERE. Don't be a bystander. Living in a global community means taking some measure of global responsibility. An official Olympics website states the following:

Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.
(Olympic Charter, Fundamental Principles, paragraph 1)
For better or worse, the Beijing Olympics are about to commence, so take them as an opportunity to bring greater attention to the horrendous problems previously described and do something that will help promote "respect for universal fundamental ethical principles." 


David Mayeda, PhD, is lead author of Fighting for Acceptance: Mixed Martial Artists and Violence in American Society, the first political book on mixed martial arts that attempts to reform the sport by increasing violence prevention measures through interviews with forty mixed martial artists, including Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, Guy Mezger, Antonio McKee, Chris Leben, "Rampage" Jackson, "Mayhem" Miller, Travis Lutter, and Frank Trigg. Dr. Mayeda has also published numerous academic journal articles on youth violence prevention and discrimination in sports media.

Non Internet Sources:
Alvarez, A. & Bachman, R. (2008). Violence: The Enduring Problem. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications.
Hargreaves, J. (2000). Heroines of Sport: The Politics of Difference and Identity. New York: Routledge.

(Photo courtesy of THIS SITE)

 

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