Time for sport to stay out of politics

Yesterday, the Chinese government responded to US President Bush’s speech calling for improved human rights in the country staging the Olympics by calling for politics to stay out of sport. Since the very decision to stage the Olympics in Beijing was political, STEVEN DOWNES says it is time sport stayed out of politics

It was song-writer and comedian Tom Lehrer who said, “I knew satire was dead when they gave the Nobel Peace Prize to Henry Kissinger.” While the IOC was never culpable in the carpet-bombing of Cambodia, you do wonder what Lehrer made of desperate Olympic efforts to install Juan-Antonio Samaranch as one of Kissinger’s Nobel laureate successors.

Samaranch, when governor of Barcelona under Franco, presided over public garrotting in the city centre. As President of the IOC, he was instrumental in securing this summer’s Olympic Games for Beijing, an overtly political decision which has been back-firing on Jacques Rogge and other IOC officials ever since. Even Lord Coe was forced to decry the hideous scenes surrounding the Chinese-controlled torch relay in London by describing the guards accompanying the flame as “goons”.

“It is very easy with hindsight to criticise the decision,” Rogge has said of awarding the Games to Beijing. “It’s easy to say now that this was not a wise and sound decision.”

Yet that unwise and unsound decision was made by Samaranch and his IOC acolytes within months of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, when the Spanish grandee donned his bicycle clips to ride around Beijing with the city’s mayor.

Mayor Chen Xitong, who authorised the shooting of thousands of students, was presented by Samaranch with the Olympic Order in 1991. A decade later, with the Chinese capital still pitching for the ultimate international endorsement, the deputy mayor Liu Jingmin promised, “If Beijing is allowed to host the Games, it will help the development of human rights.” Tell that to the Tibetan monks gunned down in Lhasa this year.

At some point in the next couple of weeks, when someone rightly points out that freedom protestors in Tiananmen Square are still locked away nearly 20 years on, an Olympic official or an apologist from the press box will mouth something about keeping politics out of sport.

The day sport stays out of politics might be a start.

Steven Downes is the Secretary of the SJA. This comment article first appeared in the July edition of the SJA Bulletin

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