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).
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:
2. Major conventional weapons (e.g., combat aircraft, tanks, armored vehicles, missiles and missile launchers).
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.
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
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)
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:
(Olympic Charter, Fundamental Principles, paragraph 1)
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)