August is only five short months away and already the Beijing Olympics is caught up in controversy. Things seemed to be going along very well, but now to the chagrin of the Olympic Committee, an ugly religious and political issue has sent shock waves through the world taking, for the moment, center stage in this smog-filled city.
The monks of Tibet have been marching for freedom of religion and the pictures sent worldwide showing Chinese security forces in riot gear have unnerved many.
China has been poised to take the world by storm. It is a giant in its early stages of growth and development. The Beijing Olympics was to be their coming out party. They would welcome the world with amazing structures built for the Olympics; they would open their doors and show the world they were more than just the Great Wall of China and good food.
But they have expelled the news media and have revealed a not so pretty picture of the China they did not want the world to see. Suddenly the Olympics are at the center of a political controversy, something we’ve seen all too often in the past.
The Chinese government has gone to great efforts to put on a grand show. They have built amazing structures that will be viewed with awe. They have even prepared to manipulate the weather by seeding the clouds above Beijing thereby limiting the amount of rainfall expected in August.
One significant issue for Beijing and the Olympic athletes is air pollution. Satellite data revealed the city is one of the worst environmental victims of China’s spectacular economic growth. Air pollution levels are blamed for more than 400,000 premature deaths a year. According to the European Space Agency, Beijing and neighboring northeast Chinese provinces have the planet’s worst levels of nitrogen dioxide, which can cause fatal damage to the lungs. An explosive increase in car ownership is blamed for a sharp rise in unhealthy emissions. In the past five years, the number of vehicles clogging the capital’s streets has more than doubled to nearly 2.5 million. It is expected to top the 3 million mark by the start of the Olympics.
Alarm about the perilous state of the environment has gathered pace in recent years. China is the world’s second-largest producer of greenhouse gases, and the World Bank has warned it is home to 16 of the planet’s 20 most air-polluted cities.
Tibetan acrimony and discontent has existed for generations. Tibet wants self-rule and the Olympics are the perfect opportunity to protest their plight to the world.
Some Olympic Committee members are fearful of a boycott and it is something they can’t rule out.
“China, facing criticism over pollution and human rights, is experiencing problems in the run-up to its first Olympics,” Premier Wen Jiabao said.
The International Olympic Committee recently said it may reschedule endurance events affected by Beijing’s smog, while China’s actions in Sudan and Tibet have pushed human rights groups to seek a boycott of the August 8 – 24 games.”
At least eighty people have died in Tibet during the biggest protests against Chinese rule in twenty years, according to Tibet’s government-in-exile. China, which invaded the Himalayan territory in 1951, refuted March 16 the Dalai Lama’s assertion that a “cultural genocide’’ is taking place.
Other politicians, including European Union ministers, have rejected the idea of a boycott, feeling it “would not be the way to work for the respect for human rights,’’ Christiane Hohmann, a European Commission spokeswoman, said yesterday.
U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Darryl Siebel told the Associated Press a boycott would be “one of the worst ideas ever conceived.”
The Olympics are supposed to bring the world together in the spirit of human accomplishment. Olympic athletes are held up as the epitome of strength, courage, and pure athleticism. Politics are supposed to be set aside.
But it is also the perfect platform for political protest and it has become all too often the venue for violence and divisiveness, not for unity.
By Ivette Ricco