The Olympics: Why I reluctantly watched every minute I could by underground

This is an opinion piece I had published in AUT’s student newspaper Te Waha Nui. Based largely off posts that I have previously posted on undergroundnetwork, I try to balance my love of sports and my passion for human rights, in regard to the recent Olympic Games in Beijing. A real juggling act!

Politics, protests, patriotism and the pursuit of sporting perfection

Every four years I plant myself in front of the television for two weeks and wear down the cushion of my couch. I find myself enthralled by sports I would otherwise not even have a passing interest in, learning the finer points of gymnastics, dressage, handball and synchronised diving. I eagerly await our anthem blaring over the speakers in a packed stadium, with our hero standing in front of our flag, with our gold medal shining around their neck.I love marveling at the skills of the athletes, getting consumed by the drama of the competition and reveling in the emotions of the winners and the losers.

But should I be watching these Olympics?

After awarding Beijing the games in 2001, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge publicly stated his expectation that China’s human rights record would improve as a result of hosting the games.

Arguably this has not occurred. Less than two weeks before the opening ceremony, Amnesty International released a report entitled “The Olympics countdown – broken promises.” The picture painted in the report is reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984. Despite the hope of the IOC and Chinese assurances steps were being made, the report says human rights have actually deteriorated as a result of the Olympics. The report presented the findings from Amnesty’s monitoring of the Chinese government in four areas: the continuing use of the death penalty; abusive forms of administrative detention; imprisonment and harassment of human rights defenders, including journalists and lawyers; and the censorship of the internet.

Amnesty accuses China of using the Olympics as a pretext for cleaning up the streets of subversive elements and dissenting voices. Protesters and activists risk being detained without charge, trial or judicial review. Prisoners are also reportedly tortured. Beijing citizens have been dealt forced evictions without compensation as their homes have been demolished in the construction of Olympic facilities. Chinese and international reporters continue to face restrictions on what they can report, for example during the unrest in Tibet in March and on the controversies in the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake.

China’s promise to improve in these areas of concern has been broken.

The world’s attention is firmly fixed on China and the Olympics have forced the country to open up. Sure the heroics from the likes of Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt captured the bulk of the world’s attention, but people have not stopped speaking out about human rights. It seems that every news bulletin during the past fortnight has included either a story on the restrictions placed on journalists or news of another audacious political protest in Beijing.

Just as the Chinese have sought to exploit the spirit of the Olympic Games for their own propaganda, activists have managed to hijack the event to draw attention to the crimes of the communist state.
China has failed to use the Games to portray itself positively, as the world is well aware of the reality behind the sleek façade.

I don’t think the hosting rights should have been awarded to China but, as a result of the Olympics, people are talking about issues that would have been otherwise ignored.

Some have suggested boycotting the Games, choosing not to watch any of the events. I don’t see how this would be particularly successful in achieving anything to be honest.

And I couldn’t boycott even if I wanted to. I love the Olympics. I remember watching Danyon Loader win his two golds in Atlanta in 1996 on a small screen television at the front of the class when I was 12. Eight years later I recall witnessing Sarah Ulmer win her pursuit race to finally put New Zealand on the medal table in Athens, at some God-awful hour of the morning.

I have tried to catch every minute of this Olympics, from Moss Burmeister’s agonising but impressive fourth placing in the 200-metres butterfly to the golden glory of the Evers-Swindell twins and Valerie Vili. And in four years time I’ll do it all again.

Hopefully the London Olympics will not present a similar moral dilemma.


6 Comments so far
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I wonder what the feeling is in China about these Olympics. Whether the average guy on the streets feel they were successful

We see a lot of news stories come out of China saying that all Chinese are very happy with their lot – they are often stereotypically portrayed as mindless, government automatons.

I am sure this can’t be the whole picture – while Chinese people must be proud of some of their countries advances and want to see their country at the forefront of the World’s economies – there must be some voices of dissent?

It was interesting that there was hardly a protest in the official protest areas!

Comment by James Murray

Good point. I think it was disappointing to not see as much protests as I had expected, especially by athletes. In fact I’m not aware of anyone making a stand from the podium. Perhaps the Chinese have pulled off their propaganda exercise after all. I feel a little let down now I’ve come to realise this!

Comment by underground

Sorry to tell you that you have what we called “Blame-China Syndrome”
Whatever we do, if it is about China, you are not happy with something anyway

Comment by Mayling Wang

That is ridiculous Mayling! If China was not abusing the rights of minorities, dissidents and journalists, I would have no complaints. Sure China put on a great spectacle and a hugely successful Olympic Games, but that is not cause for us to forget the horrible crimes the country commits. It is akin to Americans who label those who disagree with Bush as anti-American or Israelis who call those who point out their crimes as anti-semitic. By claiming I suffer from “Blame China Syndrome”, you are seeking to stifle debate by muting criticism of China. You have bought into the propaganda. It appears you have been brainwashed by patriotism and the poisoned ideology of the authoritarian communist regime of China.

Comment by underground

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