Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Tibet, China and the Beijing Olympics

This is not something that "affects black people the world over" as the tagline of my blog so eloquently states, but I do feel like commenting on the recent brouhaha over the Beijing Olympics. The issue at hand is whether the so-called West (I hate the arrogance of that term) should boycott the opening ceremonies, or even the entire event, as a statement against China's human rights record, in particular their Tibet record.

It's no secret that the Dalai Lama is one of the most revered figures in the world, and understandable that the world leaders kowtow to him at the slightest tip (not drop) of a hat. In fact, one can call the devotion to him "servile". Since the only being I serve is God, I don't feel the same way towards the old man of Tibet, but I do respect his perseverance in the face of adversity. That being said, I'm disappointed that he could come out with a statement about boycotting any part of the Olympics, while still parading himself as a world leader. I'm disappointed because this simply shows him to be another in a long line of selfish leaders, who only draw attention to themselves, and fail to see the big picture.

What's the big picture, you ask? Let's examine it through the eyes of stakeholders:

Chinese Government and Tibetan politics
Boycotting the games will have NO impact on the Chinese government or their relations with Tibet. If anything, by forcing the hand of the world, the Tibetans are likely to receive even harsher treatment from China in the coming months and years. The only thing the West can do to force China's hand is the imposition of economic sanctions, and the West won't do that for 2 reasons - 1) it will lead to a worsening of the economic conditions in the West, since the cost of goods and services will increase and 2) will only turn China to focus more on the Russian and North Korean markets, something the US (in particular) is very keen to avoid.
What does this mean - these proposed boycotts are merely a tool that the West can say it used, without achieving any specific objective since they don't affect any of the primary stakeholders (other than the athletes).

The West
Added to reasons listed above about why a boycott won't work is the simple fact that all the big blue-chip companies - Apple, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, IBM, Kodak, etc - have already paid mega-bucks for the sponsorship rights to this event. When corporate America sneezes, so does the rest of the world, and I can assure you that no one in the West wants a cold right now :-)
The West is also complaining (trying to make excuses, more like) about how the event has been poorly managed so far, how pollution is going to bother the athletes, how the workers building facilities for the games were treated like crap, how the quality of the infrastructure leaves much to be desired, and so on. The question that should be asked is this - when the IOC was kissing China's ass in 2001 and overlooking the better bid from Toronto (I had to plug my hometown), where were all these concerns? Give me a break - it's not as if we just discovered that China had pollution or human rights issues.

Symbolism of Olympic Games
To me, this was tarnished from the very moment that the decision was made to go to Beijing for the Olympics in 2008. How the Olympics, which preach "egalite and fraternite" (equality and brotherhood) could be auctioned off to the highest bidder, just so that advertising rights to 1.2 billion people could be harnessed, never ceases to amaze me. Essentially, China's fascist, racist and nepotist regime got a pass from the international community to carry on business as usual - no different from the Berlin Olympics in Nazi Germany, really. It is rich, therefore, for this about-face and last-minute questioning of the decision to start.

For those wondering why I called the Dalai Lama selfish, this is it. These athletes are the mostly nameless, poor (forget the very few NBA or track superstars who will be there) folks who have been working hard in obscurity for the better part of 4 years, so that they can display their talents to the world FREE of charge. Are we now to tell them that because China's long-running feud with Tibet cannot be solved, they cannot march out wearing their country's colors? That they cannot step out and show us the stuff they are made of, just so that the West will have some moral jubilation? Perhaps if only the end result of such actions actually resulted in Tibet becoming independent, or in China becoming Martin Luther King-like in their adherence to, and belief in, human rights! Unfortunately, another old saying rings true - if wishes were horses, beggars would ride...nay, beggars would be kings.

This reminds me of the 1980 Moscow Olympics - no I wasn't born by then - when the West decided to boycott the Games over the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. Other than the damage done to the careers of many of those athletes, it probably wasn't funny to these same athletes when Afghanistan (the 'victim' in this case) sent 11 athletes to the event!
The Olympics are meant to make the world forget about the nonsense that happens on a daily basis. Politics and the games world leaders (including the Dalai Lama) play have no business with it. Let the athletes, many of whom have their one and only chance to shine, have the spotlight (even among the myriad Coca-Cola and JVC signs) and make us forget the world's troubles for once.

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