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Kennedy: The Olympics’ political connection

Matthew Kennedy
Special to the Daily

The Beijing Olympics were one of the most memorable Games in recent memory. And yet the Games were marred by the China’s political and human rights record. Many foreign dignitaries and activists argued against awarding Beijing the Olympics for these reasons. I wondered occasionally “When did a country’s political conditions determine who was or wasn’t eligible for hosting the Olympics?” Readers may ask: “Why discuss the issue now since the Games are over?”

First, the political element in the Olympics selection process is an ongoing issue. And second, the challenges facing Beijing ” challenges many opponents argued should have excluded the Asian giant from hosting the Olympics ” will influence China and the international community for years, possibly decades, beyond August 2008.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) selects a city to host the Games based on a variety of factors. These include a candidate’s Olympics concept and legacy, its political and economic structure, the host city’s legal aspects and guarantees, its custom and immigration formalities, a contender’s environment and meteorology, finance, marketing, sports and venues, its idea for the Paralympic Games and Olympic Village, a candidate’s medical services, security, accommodation, transport, media operations and culture. The criteria exclude a host city’s ” or country’s ” political culture or human-rights record.

The IOC chose Beijing since it met the above standards, not its political culture. A colleague and I discussed this issue on several occasions. He believes the Olympics should only be hosted by a country whose political conditions serve as an example for the international community; China failed this test in his opinion.

There are several possible reasons why the IOC refuses to incorporate a country’s political environment into the selection process. A universal consensus is impossible to reach ascertaining which political conditions a host country must or must not possess. The IOC understands that each host country’s political culture is unique. And the Olympic spirit will be tainted and/or ruined if the IOC includes politics into the Games’ selection venue process

China exemplifies these issues.

It possesses one of the world’s most complex political cultures. China has over a billion people from different ethnic groups, many of whom have historical, regional and political animosities. China’s leadership risks fracturing the country if it introduces political reforms many human rights activists and governments demand (such as the United States and European Union countries, not to mention Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch). The result might be a national collapse exceeding the Soviet Union’s ” a scenario Chinese authorities dread. China is also experiencing one of the most profound economic transformations in modern times. The situation is precarious, since there is an enormous gap between the country’s wealthy urban regions and the impoverished rural areas. The numbers are mind-boggling: There are at least 700 million in the rural areas versus 300 million in the urban regions. Chinese authorities are playing a tight balancing act between formulating economic policies which address these discrepancies – and gradually introducing a degree of political reform. Beijing realizes a full-fledged incorporation of Western-style political and economic reforms might tear the country apart. It could jeopardize China’s vast economic transformation. And it might have global economic and strategic ramifications.

A strong case is many of the countries recently chosen to host the Olympics would have been disqualified ” if the IOC incorporated a candidate’s political culture into the selection process. For instance, Sydney could have been ineligible considering Australia’s human rights record regarding the Aborigines. Plus, the U.S. might have been barred from hosting the Atlanta Games since many blacks contend the United States continues to violate their political and economic rights.

The IOC refuses to incorporate politics into the selection process for good reason. It degrades the Olympics’ original intention – athletic competition as a form of international relations void of politics.


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