Losing Goodwill at the Games

by Roger Alford

The Olympics have been amazing. Great athletes, amazing venues, wonderful organization. The Chinese have much to be proud of. But whatever goodwill that the Olympics have engendered in me is quickly being lost based on their treatment of dissent. The Chinese are being utterly hypocritical in promising to afford opportunities for dissent but not making good on those promises. Demonstrators require permits, but permission is never granted. If you try to procure a permit you will fail in that attempt, as Nicholas Kristof recently reported. But then if you protest without a permit you will be arrested. Five American students are now being detained for unfurling a Free Tibet banner for about twenty second last night at midnight. Twenty seconds of dissent gets you thrown in jail or deported? This could have been prevented had the IOC established appropriate contractual obligations and penalties for violating representations and warranties in the Olympic selection process. IOC President Jacques Rogge strongly supports a rule preventing “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or areas.” But he should be just as adamant that promises to allow demonstrations in designated areas be enforced.


4 Responses

  1. Would you also say that Chinese nationals should have a right to an American visa for the purpose of conducting protests of American domestic policy on American soil?

  2. The IOC’s general timidity toward China (not just on this matter, of course; see also the age controversy surrounding their “women’s” gymnastics team) can probably be explained by three things:

    1) Deference toward China as the host nation of these Games,

    2) Recognition of China as a major player in the Olympic movement, whom the IOC cheeses off at its own peril (see also their penchant for throwing the Olympic delegation from Taiwan Chinese Taipei under the bus), and

    3) An unstated desire, if not an actual conspiracy, to develop a new Olympic superpower rivalry between the U.S. and China to replace the old USA-vs.-Soviet-bloc rivalry, whose disappearance has diminished U.S. interest, or at least TV ratings, in the last few Olympics. The aforementioned gymnastics flap in particular is more than a little reminiscent of the rule-bending of the sports machines of the USSR, East Germany et al, and it makes for compelling drama today as surely as it did during the Cold War.

  3. James Brink,

    I have no objection to Chinese nationals engaging in peaceful protests of US domestic policy in the United States. However, please note that some of those who applied unsuccessfully for permits were Chinese citizens, who unquestionably have the right to engage in peaceful protests of their own country’s policies. Note further that many of the foreigners who wished to protest were concerned with the Chinese occupation of Tibet, which is not a domestic issue.

  4. Bill Poser,

    Whether you have any personal objection to such protests is kind of beside the point, no? It’s much more relevant whether an American immigration official is obligated to grant or continue a visa for a foreign national who claims a “right” to stage a protest on American soil. And it is hardly “unquestionable” that Chinese citizens have a right of public protest — even in democracies, the right of protest (i.e. what is protested, and where) is a contested notion.

    Likewise the status of the Tibet issue: whether it is domestic or “international” depends on where you stand in the debate. I note you are from Canada – do you think Canadians were justified in their outrage when, in 1967, Charles de Gaulle shouted from the balcony of Montreal city hall “Vive la Quebec! Vive la Quebec libre!”? Why the surprise that the Chinese are equally outraged — whatever their personal opinions of the Tibet issue — when foreign activists purport to tell them what to do? The status of Tibet as sovereign nation, autonomous region, tributary, or territory has been murky for hundreds of years. Isn’t it a bit presumptuous for American students and other international activists to waltz in with delusions of playing Tom Paine to a Tibetan version of the American Revolution?

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