The Olympics aren’t political? Please.
STR/AFP/Getty Images Poor China. Beijing has complained incessantly over the past few months that human rights critics and other countries have politicized the Olympics, while turning around and trying to use the games for its own propaganda purposes. Now, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is rebuking China for remarks made by Zhang Qingli (above right), ...
Poor China. Beijing has complained incessantly over the past few months that human rights critics and other countries have politicized the Olympics, while turning around and trying to use the games for its own propaganda purposes. Now, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is rebuking China for remarks made by Zhang Qingli (above right), the local Communist Party bigwig in Tibet and the architect of this spring’s crackdown. As the Olympic torch passed through Lhasa last Saturday, Zhang said the following in a public speech:
The sky above Tibet will never change. The red five-star flag will always fly above this land. We can definitely smash the separatist plot of the Dalai Lama clique completely.”
Whoops. “China’s solid position is against the politicizing of the Olympics,” a spokesman for the foreign ministry said in response to the IOC.
But the IOC is kidding itself if it thinks the Olympics aren’t political. As John Hoberman argues in “Think Again: The Olympics” in the new issue of Foreign Policy, the committee tries to have it both ways:
Olympic diplomacy” has always been rooted in a doublespeak that exploits the world’s sentimental attachment to the spirit of the games. In the absence of real standards, the spectacle of Olympic pageantry substitutes for a genuine concern for human rights. At the heart of this policy is a timid and euphemizing rhetoric that turns violent demonstrations and state-sponsored killings into “discussions,” a combination of grandiosity and cluelessness that has long marked the IOC’s accommodating attitude toward unsavory Olympic hosts. Even today, with regard to Beijing, the committee has fallen back on its old habit of claiming to be both apolitical and politically effective at the same time. Although the IOC “is not a political organization,” it does claim to “advance the agenda of human rights.” Sadly, neither is true.
Blake Hounshell is a former managing editor of Foreign Policy.
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