Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Flame, Fury and Farce
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Macbeth, Act V, Scene V
I'm in two minds about the Olympics. From a sporting perspective, I love it. I enjoy the drama and the spectacle and the ridiculous sense that you get for five minutes that maybe in some small way it does the world good to come together for such a great sporting occasion. But then the drugs cheats rip right into that idealistic notion, and part of me thinks it's just a tawdry sideshow.
On top of all that, this time we have the knotty problem that is the fact that the IOC in their wisdom decided that China was fit to host the 2008 Olympics. The IOC of course have a fine history of giving the Olympics to dodgy nations (see Munich 1936, Moscow 1980) and of course in theory, politics and sports shouldn't mix.
I know six or seven years ago, or however long ago it was that China was awarded the Games, the IOC might have been forgiven for thinking that China was changing, becoming more consumerist, more western, more democratic, more like US perhaps, but hell do they pay no attention to human rights abuses?
The persecution of Tibetan monks isn't something that started a month ago, it's been going on for decades. And Chinese determination to destroy Tibetan culture is a bit of ethnic cleansing every bit as unpleasant as what happened in Bosnia. Tianamen Square happened less then twenty years ago, and I imagine (though I don't know enough about it to be sure) that plenty of its architects still have positions of power. Certainly from my quick trawl through wikipedia it appears that the Chinese government have all but wiped out reference to it from their history books, and a whole generation has grown up knowing nothing about it. They are benefitting from China's growing prosperity and presumably a lot of them are unaware of the brutality of a regime which is currently presenting a smiling face to a world that knows better.
So, I don't think China should ever have been allowed to host the Olympics, and I was pretty horrified when I heard the Olympic flame was coming to London. Personally I think Gordon Brown should have fudged it, sod whether or not we're hosting in 2012, it's about time our politicians showed some moral fibre. But hell, no one said anything about Zimbabwe or the Sudan till it was too difficult to ignore, why should they say stir up things with China? Because China are simply too necessary for us now. Where would we all be without their cheap goods flooding the market? And how long would our economy survive without their input?
And that is the nub of the problem. Jim White pointed out (rightly, I think) in yesterday's Telegraph that it isn't fair just to target the Olympics/sports people for getting into bed with China to suit their own purpose, we are all complicit to a degree.
I was initially against the likes of Sir Steve Redgrave, Paula Radcliffe and so many of my other sporting heroes/heroines carrying the torch through London, as it did seem that they were condoning what is happening in Tibet and elsewhere. But presumably when this was decided, the situation hadn't escalated the way it now has. What looked like a reasonable proposition even six months ago, looks very different now. Besides, as Sir Steve said on Sunday, he thinks protests against the flame should happen. By allowing the procession to go ahead and descend into the farce it has done, while it may damage the Olympic ideal etc (Olympic ideal, not already tarnished beyond all measure anyway? Discuss.), actually allows the wider voice of the protestors to be heard. I really really hope the Chinese government has been thrown into turmoil by the pictures beamed round the world of protestors trying (and succeeding yesterday in Paris) to extinguish the Olympics flame. And the banners already aloft on the Golden Gate Bridge make it all too abundantly clear what the rest of us think about Chinese abuses in Tibet.
I'm not normally a fan of civil disobedience, as I don't think ultimately it achieves all that much, but I have to admit to cheering when I heard yesterday that the flame had been extinguished, and the procession abandoned. No clearer message can have been sent to the Chinese government than that.
I also feel immensely sorry for the athletes involved. They train four years for the Olympics, they might only have one shot at it. They cannot be expected to bear the burden of feeble politicians' lack of spirit. And I think the people who carried the flame on Sunday in incredibly difficult circumstances deserve our respect. For people like Tim Henman and Paula Radcliffe to be booed (something I don't incidentally condone) must have been a bitter pill to swallow, but they could have easily opted out. The fact that they carried the flame and took the flak allowed the protestors to make their point.
I suspect this Games is going to be horribly controversial and leave us all with a bitter taste in our mouth. But now I think, yes, it should go ahead, because I hope it will become a focal point for people's anger at what is happening in Tibet, and though ultimately their sound and fury may signify nothing, it is, I think very much worth the candle.