Let me make clear, first of all, that I really don’t want Toronto to win it’s bid for the 2008 Olympics. I think the Olympics are a massive boondoggle, a gigantic monument to bureaucratic privilege, corruption, and pomposity.
They tell us that the homeless in Toronto will benefit from the new housing provided for the Olympics. If you can stop laughing long enough to read further… the Olympics will benefit those with vested property interests and corporate flags to fly, and their cronies in the legislature whose reward is to shake hands with celebrities and gratuitously shove their ugly mugs in front of tv cameras and make mind-numbingly boring speeches in front of privileged audiences. It will benefit union organizers who can hold the Olympics hostage to work delays, and contractors who can charge excessive amounts for minor alterations. It will benefit the cops who get to demand extravagant new funding of helicopters and anti-terrorist programs and equipment and who, afterwards, will never, ever downsize because the cops never ever announce that crime has gone down and therefore, less of them are needed.
So perhaps it is appropriate, after all, that the Olympics go to China. Beijing, we are told, wants them very badly. China wants to show the world that it is a modern, efficient, and important country. To ensure that the world gets the right impression, they are sure to lock up all the dissidents long before a single shot-putter lifts a single steel ball.
The logic of the Olympic Organizing Committee is that China should be invited to engage itself with the rest of the world. It should be given an opportunity to experience first hand the delights and rewards of crass consumerism. It should share in the spoils of commercial exploitation and greed.
All those aging intolerant dictatorial communist officials will immediately perceive the error of their ways and invite MacDonald’s to open several franchises.
The West salivates at the thought of a billion microwave-less consumers. The U.S. especially thinks the Chinese can be convinced of the virtues of television and cell-phones, designer running shoes and Mickey Mouse ears. Democracy can come later.
Historically, the Chinese have only invited Western companies in so they can absorb a new technology and then adapt the production methods for their own uses. They have never yet, allowed Western companies to set up their own branch plants and go into some serious production and sales. I frankly don’t know how likely it is that they will “see the light” on this issue. I don’t know why many Western politicians and corporate leaders think things have changed.
I don’t know why we should think it would be a good thing for China to just let big, Western corporations into the country to operate as freely as they do here.
But the idea of Beijing hosting the Olympics while continuing to torture, imprison, and murder political dissidents is offensive in the extreme. The real message, if they are given the 2008 Olympics, is that we in the West are cold-hearted pragmatists who only pretend to care about human rights and justice. They will absorb the lesson that when it comes to cold, hard, cash, freedom and democracy must take a back seat.
And one more key point. You will shortly hear a lot of blather about how the Olympics are not about politics– they are about international cooperation and the spirit of human achievement and athletics and grace and international harmony.
You will hear that phrase often: “not about politics”.
It is utter crap.
The Olympics are the worlds biggest stage, the biggest spectacle, the most prestigious sporting event in the known universe. The powers that be, as part of the deal, get to preside over the festivities. They get to put on huge displays. They get to make speeches. They get to meet celebrities. They get to be on TV. They get to tie in the splendiferous event with local events, at which they do have complete control. In other words, the Olympics are utterly political. They promote the status quo. They add to the prestige and– most importantly– legitimacy– of the regime in power. They promote consumer products and the values they embody. They promote competitiveness and hierarchical social values.
So don’t give me this crap about “not about politics”. It is not about the “wrong” politics, which is, democracy and human rights.
And maybe that is how it should be. Have you ever read about athlete’s lives? How they are utterly subject to the totalitarian whims and caprices of the authorities within the national Olympic bodies? After all, we send about three functionaries to the Olympics for every athlete we send. That’s where your money goes. That’s where Coke’s and Sony’s and Nikon’s and Kodak’s money goes.