Politicizing the Beijing Olympics a flawed concept

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Political protests in such forums also a denial of free speech

By Chris Devonshire-Ellis

Feb. 15 – With Steven Spielberg’s decision to resign as advisor to the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony over the civil war in Darfur, coming on top of the British Athletics Federation bungling over the IOC’s clause 51 and the comments by marathon champion Haile Gebreselassie threatening not to run due to pollution concerns, the Beijing Olympics is rapidly turning into a media free-for-all some six months before it is due to begin.This is regrettable. Beijing may well have flown too close to the sun in choosing internationally high profile figures such as Steven Spielberg to assist with the Opening ceremony without thinking of the consequences. While he is a big name, and his films include such China-based work as 1987’s “Empire of the Sun”, he is vulnerable to pressure. Regrettably so, his decision to participate in assisting the opening ceremony was obviously ill-thought out by him personally as well as by Beijing. The irony is that the ceremony will instead be choreographed by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou – whose films have in the past been banned by Beijing. Zhang, sensibly, prefers to work with the government rather than oppose it. And to be frank, as an internationally acclaimed director in his own right – why did the Games need Spielberg’s involvement in the first place?No live and let live then for Mr. Spielberg, whose explanation over concerns about genocide in Darfur as a reason for pulling out point directly to pressure placed on him by Mia Farrow, whose “official-unofficial” website explicitly blames China for millions of deaths in Sudan.While China does purchase oil from the Sudanese government, (and in doing so opens up criticisms of assisting in the genocide there) it is not the purpose of the Olympics to interfere with matters that should be solved via diplomatic means. Yet Farrow, who has been active in Hollywood in supporting anti-Chinese rhetoric, would deny the worlds games a major talent.While passing herself off as a bastion of worthy causes, such antics smell of attention seeking at all costs to get her point of view across. Farrow, we should recall, also accused Woody Allen of child molestation in her split from him, in a temper tantrum ridden display of a spurned woman prepared to lie to the courts to get her revenge. Allen, stunned, was found not guilty; Farrow had lied. It’s not a good standard to set when seeking to comment on other countries civil wars and the reasons behind them. Headlines on her website such as: “The Genocide Olympics” and statements such as “One World, One Dream is China’s slogan for its 2008 Olympics. But there is one nightmare that China shouldn’t be allowed to sweep under the rug. That nightmare is Darfur, where more than 400,000 people have been killed and more than two-and-a-half million driven from flaming villages by the Chinese-backed government of Sudan” are deliberately designed to be provocative and to distort the picture.What is occurring in Darfur is criminal, but the Chinese did not start this war, and apart from buying energy supplies from the government, have nothing to do with it. It’s too simplistic an approach to condemn China for what is a problem that requires international solutions, and pressures on China to alter its foreign policy should be brought at a diplomatic level, and through the appropriate established channels, not via a disruption of the worlds sporting event.Spielberg’s pressure comes from having to live in the same world as Farrow, who as we have previously seen, can be a vicious a campaigner when standing up for her beliefs. But it’s a bit much to have them thrust upon everyone else in such a manner via a global athletics movement. Hardly democratic at a time when the world has a great opportunity to show China what democracy and freedom of speech means. It does not mean having the right to use international sporting events to declare a political point if view and ram it down other peoples throats without permission.Beijing should be given a chance. Those who seek to use the Olympics for other means merely display their own version of a denial of democracy and freedom of speech, in a country which really needs to understand exactly what this means. Let the athletes make the headlines. It’s their games, and the purpose of the Olympics is to gain pleasure from seeing men and women from around the world compete at the very limits of human physical excellence, not to be used as a convenient platform from which to spout off ill-considered personal beliefs.