China's Communists Want the Spotlight on the Games, Not Them

Once upon a time the Olympic Games really meant something. In the days before mass communications, they were actually about sports, not politics. In the really early years of their existence, starting in 776 BC and running every few years consistently until 393 AD, they were really the only “international” organized sporting contests taking place. Revived in the Nineteenth Century, for awhile the Olympics showcased athletes; now the event attempts to be equally a showcase for the host country.

In China, which is to host the summer games of 2008, the rush is on to “prove” to the world that China is the greatest nation on Earth and that it can do things bigger and better than any place else. Basically, China wants to show to the world that it is every bit as advanced as America. To do that their leaders want to silence any internal negative press. Therein is the great difference between the United States and the Communist leadership of Asia’s largest country. The world, apparently, is to take no notice at all about the sickening pollution in Beijing (wait until the marathoners have to run through it), the lead paint scandal, the miserable repression of human rights, the brutal take over of Tibet, the designs China has on Taiwan, and the absolute intolerance of any political opposition.

Just a few days ago, on August 15, China announced through its official Xinhua News Agency that it would carry out a wide-ranging crackdown on “false news” and illegal publications.

Jim Yardley, writing for the New York Times, pointed out:

“The Communist Party expends much effort trying to remove politics from daily life in China, and now it wants to remove politics from the Olympics too. Beijing Olympic officials are taking the line that political protesters agitating about China are violating the spirit and the charter of the Games.”

Good luck. They are now inside the one-year countdown to the 2008 Games and the protests and the anti-government politics are not going away; in fact they are increasing in size and intensity and the more the ruling party attempts to suppress the negative news, the more news they manage to make about the muscle they are exerting to silence their critics.

In fairness to the leaders of China, it must be noted that there is indeed a lot of what might be called “manufactured news” and corrupt reporting practices in the massive Asian country. I have reported before on the subject of criminals in China masquerading as journalists, demanding large payoffs from corporations and individuals to suppress bad news while taking bribes to report “good” information (China Needs Journalists it Can Trust 02/02/07). However, China’s leadership is using the problem of these truly corrupt practices to clamp down on any dissident news reporting and any stories that make the state, especially its ruling party, look bad.

Obviously the Communist leadership is not so naïve as to think that they can actually control all negative press. But the difference between them and us is that they are going to try their hardest to contain any dissent. Their goal is rather to validate their regime while showing the dissidents in the worst light possible, or just shoving them off the stage, out of the country or into jail.

So once again the Olympics become something more than international sports. International opinion shall not just be about who is the best swimmer, runner, jumper and discus thrower. No, the question will also be can the Games help reform the world’s largest authoritarian state on the one the hand, or as the current leadership wants, simply validate their control?

China’s anti-news campaign “aims to clamp down on illegal news coverage and eliminate the spread of false news,” Liu Binje, the director of China’s General Administration of Press and Publication said last Wednesday. Maybe, he should have watched the Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives this year attempt to pass the “Fairness in the Media” doctrine. Certainly that was a similar attempt to control the news. In this day and age, it is a lot harder to manage. Thank goodness for that.

I see two solutions to the problem of preventing the turning of the Olympic Games into a war of national cultural and ideological standards: the first is for the Chinese to let the press be the press and recognize that the great mass of the people will trust the reporting of those professionals and accompanying news organizations, while drawing their own conclusions.

The second is to establish a permanent site for the Olympics. This site could be developed on an island, owned by no one nation but by a new coalition called, perhaps, Olympia, and ruled by international sports men and women whose only agenda would be to provide an outstanding venue for the promotion and development of great athletes to compete in the most important sporting events in the world.

Then, just maybe, we would not have to endure every four years (really it is essentially a permanent condition of selling and lobbying) the spectacle of the competition to “win” the right to host the Games and the subsequent politicization of an event meant to entertain and enthrall the world through the achievements of our best athletes.

It is worth serious thought. The money saved by the nations that are competing for the right to have the Games in their backyard, along with the flood of red ink the event usually brings the host country, might be better spent on actually doing something directly positive about the poor, the needy and the repressed.