Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Olympics come at a price

And I'm not talking about what McDonald's and Coke and other companies have to pay to be sponsors (about $74 million, by the way). I'm not quite as hopeless a sports nut as my wife sometimes thinks I am, but I have a greater than average interest in athletic endeavors, even though my own accomplishments in the various sports I've tried were modest at best. So I suspect I will get caught up in the Beijing Olympics and watch more than is really good for me.

It's worth remembering, however, that the games this year will come at a price paid by Chinese beggars and street people (shipped out in droves to the provinces) and dissidents (jailed). The International Olympics Committee claimed in 2001 that giving the games to Beijing would lead to political and human-rights improvements, but whatever influence the IOC had (probably not much) was used hardly at all. China sees the games as the country's international coming-out party, and to be sure its economic growth in the last couple of decades has been remarkable. But it is still a one-party totalitarian state, and uses the totalitarian ways pretty brutally to try to improve what it sees as its image. If that means shipping thousands of beggars out of Beijing, so be it.

Here's the Register's editorial on the subject. And here's a fascinating article in the current issue of Foreign Policy that makes the argument that the Olympics do more harm than good. I don't share the author's horror at the growing commercialism of the games, but a lot of the political points he makes are quite accurate. Certainly when the IOC gives the Olympics to repressive regimes it almost always harms rather than helps the putative aspirations of serving justice and peace.

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