11 April 2008

On the Olympics, and Speech, and Tibet

I don't want to get into whether the United States should or should not boycott the Olympics in China. If my country decides to boycott the Olympics, then that's fine. If not, that's fine too. Just don't try and split the baby by only boycotting the opening ceremony. That's weak sauce.

No, the purpose of this post is to muse on the protests that are taking place around the torch relay. And furthermore, how the Chinese government is sending out signals that any athlete that says something about China, or Tibet, or whatever, is going to face repercussions.

This is not surprising. Only a year ago, when RSL played the Chinese National Team, there were some pretty cravenly actions taken by both the stadium staff and others to kick out Tibetan protesters. You can probably read about it in the archives of this blog. And once again, with our team qualifying for the Olympics, the situation may rise again.

Here's what I want to say. Let's say there's no boycott (and there really doesn't seem to be the spine for one right now). Then I hope the US Olympic team goes to China, and plays well. I hope they medal. But even if they don't, I hope one of them scores a goal, and has the courage to unveil a Free Tibet T-Shirt under his kit. I know that US Soccer may not like it. I know that even some US citizens may not like it, or feel that the United States and its citizens have little grounds to criticize any other country. I have a nuanced response to those people, but I'll just summarize it as "Whatever - hypocrisy is not the worst vice." The situation is the one the US U23 team is faced with, and an act of free speech in a land not known for one would make me prouder than a gold. I don't think it will happen. I'm sure the players will be lectured to no end about being "good guests." Screw it. I want it to happen. And if a player, or the US fans who make it to China manage to say something, it will be a small victory in a world that seems very dark most days.

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At 11 April, 2008 14:08, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nah, the President boycotting the opening ceremony hits the right balance between boycotting the games as a whole (which punishes the athletes) and just sitting there complicit in what goes on it China. I think the diplomatic statement it would make would be perfect. For once, we would actually show diplomatic skill, rather than just bluster.

At 11 April, 2008 14:35, Blogger Kinney said...

The President boycotting the opening ceremony is a canard. No US President has ever attended an opening ceremony on foreign soil. The US shows its displeasure at some of China's policies by not doing something it probably wouldn't have done anyway. Very good diplomacy if you ask me.

Like Aaron, I don't agree with a full boycott, but I couldn't agree more about athletes individual expressions of solidarity. It doesn't even have to start with the US players. I hope it becomes a trend with medal winners doing it from all over the place.

At 11 April, 2008 15:34, Blogger Jason said...

One wonders if the US delegation can just not walk in the opening ceremony... or just have the 1 person carrying the flag. That would be a hugely symbolic move.

At 11 April, 2008 15:54, Blogger Matt Johnston said...

While I like your idea of showing the shirt, there is a big problem and not just from Chinese officials.

Under the rules of the Olympics (see here), athletes and coaches are forbidden from making political statements during the games. This is a left over from the 1968 "Black Power" salute days.

I think the mere fact that the games are taking place in China and the massive media spotlight being shown is more than enough to embarrass the Chinese.

Of course getting their clocked cleaned in as many sports as possible will also help. Think Jesse Owens and the 1936 games.

At 11 April, 2008 16:07, Anonymous Jeremy said...

On the news last night, they were talking to a couple of athletes who were planning protests like the apartheid "Black Power" protest if they found their way onto the medal stand.
Whoever does it had better make sure that they don't want to come back in four years though, because the USOC will probably revoke their eligibility.

At 11 April, 2008 18:38, Blogger tucksider said...

sounds like a perfect opportunity for U-23 players to step up. i mean, most of them won't be Olympic eligible in four years anyway. :)

i agree that an opening ceremony boycott would be a milquetoast move. but i also don't think a general boycott would necessarily make a positive impact either, considering how entrenched the current system appears to be in China. i just don't think skipping a sporting event will make that much of a difference when the rest of our foreign policy toward China -- which actually matters slightly more -- is so spineless.

that said, if there's an international movement to boycott the games, i wouldn't complain if the US joined in.


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