Games People Play

In spite of huge criticism against the Beijing bid for the right to host the 2008 Olympics, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) decided to forge ahead regardless. On July 13, 2001, they took the controversial decision to award the Games to Beijing. With this single act, the IOC has erased the memory of more than 40 million Chinese who died in the Great Leap Forward era in the 1950s, the atrocities of the Cultural Revolution, the massacre that followed the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy movement, and the 1.2 million Tibetans who have died as a direct result of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. And still are.

The defenders of this sad decision by the IOC have churned out the much trumped-up response to those of us who are appalled, that this decision will increase our “understanding” of China and hasten “democratisation of China”. My question is — what is it about China that we don’t understand? Have we been misinformed about the repression in Tibet? Is it a misunderstanding that China has systematically destroyed Tibet and is hell-bent on wiping out the very identity of Tibetans? Is it all a Western plot that those unfortunates deemed guilty and executed by the authorities are charged for the bullets used to carry out Chinese justice? Is it merely a fragment of “western hostile forces’ imagination” that people praying in their homes are routinely sentenced to labour camps to get their minds right? And what Communist government, terrified of losing even an iota of its own power, is going to even entertain the concept of democracy, let alone assisting in hastening it? Do you really expect anybody with half a gram of intelligence to swallow that?

You might also ask how can denying China the right to host the Olympics for the second time help bring China in the global family? How can China be positively influenced by isolating them? My answers to all these questions are ask the Tibetans why? Ask Ngawang Sangdrol, ask Ngawang Choephel. Or ask Gendhun Choekyi Nyima, the 12-year old Panchen Lama why China doesn’t deserve to hold the Olympics. But you cannot. This is not a question of petty racism but a statement as to whether China has earned the right to be regarded in moral terms as a mature member of a hopefully ethical human race.

By the way, where is Beijing and where is Tibet? Will Olympics in Beijing improve access to Tibet? I doubt it. I remember a placard carried by a Chinese student during the 1989 Tiananmen massacre — “Beijing is not Lhasa”. So true — Beijing is not Lhasa! And tell me why China needs the Olympics to initiate reform and open up. To me the Chinese insistence that giving Olympics to China will bring in reform and improve human rights seems nothing more than shameless blackmail. And the IOC fell for it hook, line and sinker. Or was that just a nicely pre-packaged convenient excuse?

Juan Antonio Samaranch’s dream to end his 21 years as IOC President on a triumphant and a symbolic note is driven by his desire to leave behind a legacy. This he has certainly achieved, but not necessarily in the manner pointed out in IOC’s report on the bidding cities, “that a Beijing games would leave a unique legacy to China and to sport, and the commission is confident that Beijing would organise an excellent games”. What he is risking leaving to the annals of history is an Olympic Games riven with controversy. Are China and Samaranch both prepared to deal with a seven-year battle that will only highlight and detail the issues to a watching world media? Or will China hide their atrocities behind the worn-out line of ’internal affairs’?

I have no doubt that Beijing will organise a stunning showpiece to the world, which will run like clockwork. Well before the game starts, all visible and anticipated forms of dissent will no doubt be removed, and systems and techniques set in place for any last minute attempts from every potential quarter. The most repressive of regimes on this Earth now has a podium to showcase to the world its fake, up-close-and-personal biographies of normal Chinese and Tibetans, who are genuinely happy and contented in the “Great Motherland”. They will not pass up the opportunity to try to convince the world of the overwhelming benevolence of the Chinese rulers which has brought incomparable benefits to the citizens, and consequently their reciprocal, absolute gratitude for the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership. They won’t let such a chance like this go to waste, they have had so many years of preparing and implementing fictional displays that I am sure that even many of them, who well know otherwise, have started to believe it themselves.

Conditions in Tibet have deteriorated dramatically over just the past few months with the re-initiation of the notorious “Strike Hard” campaign. Just the day before the announcement of the awarding of the Games, Public Security Bereau in Lhasa had stepped up to the level of widespread passport checks in foreigners’ hotels late at night. With restaurants forced to close by midnight and every Tibetan on the street after 10 pm subjected to pass checks, Beijing was stopping just short of a city-wide curfew. This was due to their planned celebrations for China’s ’50 Years of Peaceful Liberation of Tibet’, and as usual they had to lock down tight the most important city of the celebration’s focus, just to ensure that they could hold a ceremony at all. I ask you, is this an indication of China’s proposed reformation and improvement of human rights? Doesn’t seem to me that, even on the very eve of the announcement, China cared in the slightest what the rest of the world thinks, when Beijing initiates actions like this with the height of international focus located squarely on its human rights issues.

And to me the real irony is depicted by the story of a foreigner in Lhasa, surrounded by the red flags of China that were only reluctantly being flown to acquiesce to Beijing’s demands, trying to explain the basic concept of the Olympics to a local Tibetan. Now this was no isolated Tibetan drogpa, whose world might be such a different reality to the West that there is hardly any basic common ground for concepts to meet on, but an intelligent, educated, and aware urban dweller. He finally realised that he had actually heard of this worldwide competition, but had absolutely no understanding of the underlying concept of the Games or the impact and importance placed on it by the West. And these are the people who are not only going to benefit SO greatly by China’s subsequent responses to the honour conferred on it by the IOC, but, if we believe Beijing, wholeheartedly supported China’s bid by signing the 10-m-long khata to signify how deeply they felt China deserved this.

Sorry China, sorry IOC, my eyes are open and my mind working for itself. And I think that you are going to find that over the next 7 years a great deal of awakening is going to happen across the globe. And who knows, maybe in the end, but in a way far from how the IOC envisaged, granting the Olympic Games may yet have an impact on the human rights situation in China. But I wonder if the IOC members who voted for China will still be anywhere to be found, when some accountablity is called for…

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