Last weekend, at the Olympic torch-lighting ceremony in Athens, International Olympic committee chair Jacques Rogge made the claim that “the Games have advanced the agenda of human rights” in China.
On the same day, a Chinese court sentenced land-rights defender and Olympics critic Yang Chunlin to five years in prison for his part in a human rights letter-writing campaign.
Earlier the same week, another activist, Hu Jia, was in court on charges of being “a danger to society” after he published an article on the internet describing human rights abuses directly related to the Beijing Olympics.
Among other things, the article claimed that 1.25 million Chinese have lost their homes to Olympic development, often with no resettlement scheme in place. Many are simply left homeless.
Some, who have dared to complain about their summary evictions, have ended up in prison, where among other abuses they may be shackled to beds and beaten with electric prods.
China imprisons more writers and journalists than any other country in the world. Journalist and poet Shi Tao is currently serving 10 years for posting an article relating to human rights and the Olympics.
Qing Shuijin got 13 years for the same crime. They are among dozens, possibly hundreds, of writers arrested since Beijing won its Olympic bid.
In the wake of China’s brutal repression of Tibetan demonstrations, some countries are making noises about boycotting the Beijing Olympics.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has hinted at a boycott of the opening ceremonies, and Belgium is considering its options. The Canadian government has been mute on the subject, but according to Chris Rudge, CEO of the Canadian Olympic committee, there are “no circumstances” under which Canada would boycott the Games.
Canada’s economy has become hopelessly intertwined with the Chinese giant. We’ve shipped the bulk of our manufacturing there to take advantage of lax regulations on health, safety and environmental protection.
We’ve encouraged Chinese partnerships in our own resource industries, and actively pursue China as a customer for Canadian oil.
In short, we are compromised to the point of silence.
As Chinese troops incite riots in Tibet, shoot protesters and round up others to be imprisoned and tortured, the Canadian prime minister chokes up a few platitudes about ‘restraint,’ and it’s business as usual.
The slogan of the Beijing Games is One World, One Dream, and if the Games come off well the world will have given its stamp of approval to China’s dream: a dream of unchecked progress backed by extreme state control and harsh repression of dissent.
To send athletes to Beijing is to join in a celebration of China as it is today: mass forced eviction, arbitrary imprisonment, concentration camps, enslavement of political prisoners, state-sanctioned murder and torture.
Whenever the subject of an Olympic boycott arises, athletes and coaches respond with a howl of protest. Politics, they say, have no place in sports.
Athletes train all their lives for a shot at Olympic gold, and shouldn’t be used as political pawns. Or as Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel puts it, “Using sport and athletics as a political tool is wrong.”
This argument is based on the risible notion that competing in the Olympic Games is in itself a politically neutral act.
The Olympics are by their nature political, and the awarding of the 2008 Games to Beijing was a particularly blatant act of political engineering, a move to put the worldwide stamp of approval on the worst excesses of Globalism.
If they’re heading for Beijing, Canada’s Olympic athletes may as well get used to the politicization of sport.
A communiqué issued by China’s Ministry of Public Security lists 11 categories of people who will not be permitted to participate in the Games, including political dissidents and human rights defenders, as well as certain journalists, news organizations and religious groups.
In Beijing, athletes will be housed on land expropriated by force, they will lend their goodwill to the practice of imprisoning and torturing dissidents, and they’ll compete against a pared-down Chinese team of politically acceptable athletes.
Discus-thrower Fang Zheng holds two Chinese records in his sport, but authorities have blocked his participation in the Special Olympics, because they don’t want the world to be reminded of how he lost his legs — under a tank in Tiananmen Square.
Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.