Relocate -- don’t boycott -- the Olympic Games
China is beginning to reap the rewards of the upcoming Summer Olympics in Beijing -- it has just launched what it hopes will be celebrations of the traditional Torch Relay on all continents.
The problem is, as soon as the torch leaves China, the rest of the world will protest China's inexcusable handling of Tibet, and the Olympic torch media events will become protest events because, China will find out, the rest of us believe in free speech.
But torch protests are not enough. Nor is the growing movement, started by Germany and France, to withhold their heads of government and delegations from the opening ceremony.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) should exercise the rule under the Olympic Charter, allowing it to "withdraw, at any time and with immediate effect, the organization of the Olympic Games from the host city" and relocate this summer's Games, scheduled for Aug. 8-24, to a recent former Olympic venue such as Athens or Sydney. Both cities are equipped, able and could be quickly readied to host the Summer Games.
In order to win the right to host the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, China held out the promise that human rights would benefit if the event was staged in Beijing. But China has gone back on its word in key areas of human rights in clear violation of the Olympic spirit, with press freedom a notable victim of Beijing's rights crackdown in Tibet. The Chinese government has shot and killed more than 100 innocent monks, and arrested more than 1,000, peacefully protesting Beijing's ruthless suppression of their culture, religion and autonomy. If that weren't bad enough, the pollution is so bad in Beijing that the world's top marathoner, Haile Gebrselassie, has already decided that he will not compete.
Concerning the Olympics, the Chinese might have gotten away with assisting Darfur because the economic aid is one level removed from directly killing people, which the Sudanese government, not the Chinese, have done. They might have gotten away with pawning defective human and pet food, toys and other products to the United States and the world. They might have gotten away with predatory trade practices and the pretense of stating they will ever buy parallel products from the United States, which has yet to happen. The Olympics are for the athletes, and politics is usually forgotten.
Murdering hundreds of innocent monks because they want to state their philosophy and their right to freedom rightly has the world's ire. Yet, canceling the games would penalize nearly 11,000 of the world's athletes and steal the highlight of the careers of most. It would abuse and destroy a key forum that itself sends the message of nonviolent international cooperation.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on the world March 21, as she arrived to meet the Dalai Lama at his home in India, to denounce China's crackdown of anti-government protests in Tibet, calling the crisis "a challenge to the conscience of the world. If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China and the Chinese in Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak out on human rights," Pelosi said.
President Bush has pushed hard against the Tibet violence, speaking to President Hu of China by phone March 27 and urging his "reaching out to and addressing the grievance of the people in Tibet."
"Even IOC president Jacques Rogge expressed his concern over the violence in Tibet in a statement released on March 23: "The events in Tibet are a matter of great concern to the IOC. The IOC has already expressed the hope that this conflict should be resolved peacefully as soon as possible. Violence for whatever reason is contrary to the Olympic values and spirit."
"No one wants to harm the Chinese people -- in fact, America and the world love the Chinese people. At the same time, no one wants to harm the Olympics as a forum for world understanding through the competition and camaraderie of the athletes of more than 200 nations. The way to send a message to China and help the Chinese population at the same time while retaining the Olympic Charter's mission statement of "encouraging and supporting the promotion of ethics in sport as well as education of youth through sport and to dedicate its efforts to ensuring that, in sport, the spirit of fair play prevails and violence is banned" is to relocate -- not boycott -- this summer's Olympic Games.
Robert Weiner is a former White House public affairs director, spokesman for the U.S. House Government Operations Committee and a USA Track & Field national masters athlete. John Larmett is former foreign affairs legislative assistant to Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., and legislative assistant to Sen. Gaylord Nelson, D-Wis., and is senior policy analyst at Robert Weiner Associates.