Saturday, 16 February 2008

Failing to feel sympathy for gagged atheletes

The New Zealand Olympic Committee denies ordering Kiwi atheletes to refrain from criticising their gracious hosts in Beijing. The committee claims

NZOC communications manager Ashley Abbott said the report was misleading and that a clause in an agreement covering athletes was a standard one for all previous Olympic Games.

A clause in the New Zealand agreement required Olympic participants to not make statements, demonstrate (whether verbally, or by any act or omission) regarding political, religious or racial matters, "as such matters are contrary to the objects and purposes of the NZOC". (1)
Might be true, might not be. Newspaper exaggerates story versus big organisation lies through its teeth. Can't say I really care.

Atheletes should have the right to speak out on matters of conscience. But if their conscience is agitated to the extent they have to speak out, they should really be awsking themselves bigger, more difficult questions, like "why am I in Beijing at all?"

If atheletes go to the Beijing olympics, and then comment about the nature of regimes, then they are hypocrites. If they feel strongly enough to speak out, then they shouldn't be there in the first place. Going, and speaking out about it is a sop to conscience.

This is different from the Munich Games, which it is frequently (and tiresomely) compared to, because the nature of the regime in China is well known, whereas the Nazi regime hadn't given much evidence of its true nature by that stage.

No-one - not even the most politically indifferent athelete - can claim that they "just don't know." We all do, and we choose to ignore it. We shove it to the back of our minds, carry on buying the cheap trinkets and goods that are belched out by the vast ndustrial machine - a machine that runs on slave labour, indentured labour and child labour. All things we've banned in the west for the perfectly good reason that they are barbaric and wrong. All things we know are going on, but which we try to forget.

We need people to take public stands against evil. Our leaders won't do it - they are busy trying to sell us the idea that a free trade deal with China, that includes no reference to human rights - is a good thing. That the way a regime treats people doesn't underpin every aspect of our relationship with it. Since our elected representatives have capitulated, it is up to individuals to follow their conscience. That's never easy, of course.

Sport and Hypocrisy have always gone hand-in-hand, perhaps particualrly in New Zealand where it is so important - the Springoks tour in the 80s, the Black Caps touring Zimbabwe in 2005. There is a conflict between wanting to find out who is the best and conscience, when the best beare part of a hateful repgime. I understand that. But when sport -SPORT - is put ahead of human rights, it is a travesty.

Sports people and atheletes are viewed as role-models by New Zealands. By going to Beijing, atheletes are indicating that demonstrating their prowess - celebrating individual achievement - is more important that collective good. The Beijing government can brutalise and exploit its people (on our behalf: never forget that), but that isn't as important as determining who is the fastest, strongest most Ayran, of them all. It's showing that, again, there are things more important than human rights.

Asking an athelete to boycott the Olympic games is a huge ask. It isn't something that even the best atheletes can hope for more than on shot at. But if reaching that pinnacle means knowing conivance with an evil regime, is it worth it? If the answer is yes, then any protestations are hollow.
1 - 'Olympics chiefs deny gagging NZ athletes,' by Lincoln Tan in the New Zealand Herald, 13th of February, 2008. (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/4/story.cfm?c_id=4&objectid=10491934)

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