Another Olympic torch event, another embarrassment

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images It was to be the marquee event of the Olympic torch’s tour around the world. In a triumphant show of Chinese prowess and technological know-how, the torch was to ascend to the highest point on Earth and powerfully symbolize China’s dramatic entry on the world stage. Instead, as Agence France Presse ...

595319_080425_everest2.jpg
595319_080425_everest2.jpg

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

It was to be the marquee event of the Olympic torch's tour around the world. In a triumphant show of Chinese prowess and technological know-how, the torch was to ascend to the highest point on Earth and powerfully symbolize China's dramatic entry on the world stage.

Instead, as Agence France Presse puts it, the torch's trip up Mt. Everest, which could begin as early as this weekend, has "descended into farce":

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

It was to be the marquee event of the Olympic torch’s tour around the world. In a triumphant show of Chinese prowess and technological know-how, the torch was to ascend to the highest point on Earth and powerfully symbolize China’s dramatic entry on the world stage.

Instead, as Agence France Presse puts it, the torch’s trip up Mt. Everest, which could begin as early as this weekend, has “descended into farce“:

[L]ast-minute changes this week by Beijing Olympic officials called for a rapid and tightly controlled two-to-three day trip through riot-hit Tibet to Mount Everest base camp. The changes raised concerns among journalists about the health impact of ascending too quickly to the camp’s elevation of 5,150 metres (16,900 feet). After foreign media requested further information on the safety concerns, Beijing Olympic Games organisers set a sudden Thursday morning payment deadline for air tickets to the Tibetan capital Lhasa. The situation descended into farce when the Olympic official tasked with collecting payments refused to accept the fees from organisations including AFP and other international news agencies as he headed to the airport to purchase the tickets. ‘I’m sorry, it is too late. I am going to the airport now,’ said Xu Xianhui, a Beijing Games media official. It was not immediately clear if the refusal to accept payment was part of an official government decision to keep reporters out of Tibet. Xu said the payment of some foreign media organisations had been accepted but declined specifics. Olympic organisers were asked to explain the refusal but did not immediately reply.”

Officials in Beijing also announced that foreign press would not be allowed to cover the climbing team’s departure from Everest Base Camp, scheduled for tomorrow.

Moreover, medical experts say the trip from Beijing (at sea level) to Base Camp should not be made in less than one week in order to allow for acclimatization. Accordingly, several news agencies pulled their reporters from the assignment due to the potential for serious health complications. Authoritarianism through bureaucracy is an art form in China.

The move is hardly surprising, considering that the reporters hoping to cover the torch’s climb up Everest were to be the first allowed to enter Tibet in a month or so. Scattered reports of continued protests are still leaking out of Lhasa, despite a near-complete ban on media coverage. And Beijing is clearly paranoid that the torch’s trip there will spark more uprisings. Earlier this week, an American mountaineer was kicked off Everest by officials keeping watch over the mountain after a “Free Tibet” banner was discovered in his gear. Oh, and Tibet won’t be reopened to tourists next month as planned, either.

Does anyone else see a pattern developing here? At this point, it seems appropriate to ask whether the Beijing Games can even be taken seriously. So, can they?

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