Beijing 2008 Was a Bad Bet By The IOC

by : James William Smith



The 2008 Summer Olympic Games and events in Beijing are still several months away. However, sad and disturbing world headlines concerning China and these Olympic Games are everywhere. Last week the Chinese government reported that air pollution in Beijing reached its highest level on record as a sandstorm from the north shrouded the capital in dust, choking pedestrians, and delaying flights.

In fact, filthy, polluted, air in Beijing has just convinced Ethiopian runner Haile Gebrselassie to pull out of the Beijing Olympic marathon. The world record marathon holder was a favorite for a gold medal this summer and will now focus solely on the 10,000 metre run because of air pollution and his problems with asthma.

The truth is that China has not been effective in improving the quality of the air in Beijing. As a result, these 2008 Summer Olympic Games will feature participating athletes wearing charcoal masks with team trainers and doctors close by with ibuprofen and asthma medication. It should now be obvious that to award the Olympic Games to a country with extreme environmental issues like China was not in the best health interest of any of the 10,500 participating world class athletes.

In addition to the problems with air pollution, China has been restricting the free speech of reporters and arresting internal dissidents. Also, world newspaper headlines describe a possible potential boycott of the opening ceremonies of this summer's games by France and other countries due to the recent Chinese government military crackdown against protestors in Tibet.

It is now apparent that the 2008 Olympic Games have become hostage to China's sad record on the environment and human rights. All the current controversy is really the result of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) vote in 2001 which named Beijing as the 2008 host city. In fact, only two rounds of voting were necessary for Beijing to obtain a majority of ballots over four other candidate cities. Beijing received 56 votes in the second round to 22 for Toronto, 18 for Paris, and 9 for Istanbul. Osaka, Japan, was eliminated in the first round.

Of course, China's dubious record on human rights and the environment was well known in 2001. So, we may ask the question of why China was awarded the honor to host the 2008 Olympic Games? An answer to this somewhat puzzling question was given after the award announcement seven years ago by Francois Carrard, (Executive Director of the I.O.C.) . He said that delegates faced one overriding political issue with regard to Beijing: human rights. ''Some people say, because of serious human rights issues, 'We close the door and say no'. The other way is to bet on openness. Bet on the fact that in the coming seven years, openness, progress, and development in many areas will be such that the situation will be improved. We are taking the bet that seven years from now we will see many changes.''

Today, seven years later, it has become obvious that the IOC has lost the bet. In the decision to ignore China's human rights record and bet that improvement would occur through time and the prospect of Olympic sport, the IOC now appears to be complicit with China in the continued compromise of that country's basic human rights. Now that the 2008 Olympic Games opening ceremonies may be subject to a boycott, the IOC's basic position, (as stated repeatedly by IOC President Jacques Rogge), is that it is a sports organization and unable to pressure China or any other country on political matters.

The fact is that the current government crackdown under the cover of Olympic security has made China's sad human rights record become even worse. Also, it has become apparent that by voting for China to host these Olympic Games, the IOC chose a venue that is in violation of the spirit of its own Olympic Charter. The Charter states that sport must be "at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity."

In 2001, the award of the summer Olympic Games for Beijing was a bet by the I.O.C. that China would be serious about cleaning up its environment. The award was also a bet on the promise by China to improve its sad human rights record. The reality is that for these 2008 Olympic Games, the dubious worldwide headlines now serve notice that, like all bad bets, the time has come to pay.