Olympics an Easy Target for A-List Hypocrites

It’s naive to believe the Beijing Games will be just about sports

In January, it was Prince Charles. Last month, it was Steven Spielberg. This month, it’s George Clooney. Next month, bet on Quincy Jones. At issue is the Olympic Games, more specifically China providing weapons to Sudan and buying up most of its oil.

Prince Charles is matey with the Dalai Lama, so he declined an invitation to the Beijing Olympics.

Spielberg, who was artistic adviser for the opening and closing ceremonies, resigned after taking heat on the Darfur issue, most pointedly from actress Mia Farrow. She calls the coming Olympics the “Genocide Games”.

Clooney advertises Omega watches, who happen to be Olympic sponsors. He says he’s put pressure on the company to use its influence to help e ffect change.

Jones, meanwhile, is doing the musical score but insiders say he’s getting jumpy and considering his options.

Darfur aside, the other 200kg gorilla in the room is China’s appalling human rights record. Despite the US State Department this week down- grading China as a human rights abuser, it remains a scary place for free-thinking journalists and human rights activists. Not to mention criminals, who accounted for a big chunk of the 6000 people executed there in 2007, according to the Dui Hua Foundation. These numbers are an estimate — the real figure is a state secret.

Given all this, you would have to agree that giving the Games to Beijing was a tad unfortunate. China never bid out of pure Corinthian ideals, but rather to use them as a platform to display its burgeoning economic power.

The International Olympic Committee didn’t award the Games to China because its bid was best. Politics, money and opportunity were at its core.

We’ve since had Britain and New Zealand impose gagging orders on their athletes, warning them not to speak out against China’s policies, although these have since been rescinded.

The stage is thus set for some powerful grand-standing, € la Tommie Smith and John Carlos performing their black power salute at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

It’s absurd to say sports and politics shouldn’t mix, but the hypocrisy over China is staggering. Take Prince Charles, whose sense of morality doesn’t extend to Saudi Arabia, whose royal family he enjoys a strong relationship with. Human rights aren’t big in Saudi Arabia; public executions are.

Spielberg is little better. He withdrew over the issue of Darfur, yet he and many others say nothing about the massive trade links between China and the free world. Indeed, Michael Jordan and his Nikes have become iconic images in downtown Beijing, where the basketballer’s handsome face looms large on billboards.

Clooney is as ridiculous as his goofy smile. Hollywood’s leading man is quite happy to lean on Omega to take issue with China over human rights, but his indignation evidently has its limits.

A more powerful message would have been to tear up his Omega deal in protest at their links with Beijing. That would have really got the pot cooking. But it would have also have put a dent in poor George’s pocket.

Even Archbishop Desmond Tutu warned that China could face an international boycott if it did not move to end the atrocities in Darfur. Which begs the question: why is Darfur suddenly China’s problem? What has the African Union done to help end the conflict on its doorstep?

It’s naive to believe the Beijing Games will be just about sport but, equally, they can be used to encourage cultural understanding. Boycotts and heavy-handed speeches may draw attention to China’s problems, but they won’t lead to fundamental changes. Which Olympics ever did?

Sport, as Clooney, Prince Charles, Farrow and Spielberg have demonstrated, is simply the soft, high-profile option to attack.

Their protests would carry real weight if they were directed at the multinationals, conglomerates and first-world governments who blithely continue to do big business with China.

But raging against them isn’t sexy or convenient — unlike the Olympics.

ONE of the biggest auctions of SA sports memorabilia takes place in Cape Town this week. Over 5000 items, among them autographed books by Rocky Marciano and Jack Cheetham, posters and framed memorabilia, will come under the hammer. The collection belongs to Alfie Andrada, who started his hobby 50 years ago but has to offload it because he’s moving house.

The collection can be viewed from tomorrow. Details from ashbeysgalleries.co.za or Inge on (021) 423-8060.

A WORD OR THREE

“I feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony, I just don’t know where to start.” — Miami Heat coach Pat Riley after the team recently ended a 13-game losing streak against the Sacramento Kings.

SUSPICIONS that the sports ministry is a Mickey Mouse operation were proven this week.

Until my colleague David Isaacson called him on Thursday night, there wasn’t a squeak from Makhenkesi Stofile, the sports minister, and none from Butana Komphela, government’s emperor of gobbledygook, over the shemozzle otherwise known as Athletics South Africa, as reported in this paper last week.

ASA president Leonard “Sticky Fingers” Chuene has been implicated in sleaze while the sport itself looks ready to seize the gold medal for back-tracking faster than Jacob Zuma.

Elections for the presidency of ASA take place next month, with nominations closing at the end of March. Thus far, Chuene’s poodles are well in place — no one is expected to stand against him.

What ought to make a difference is the National Sport and Recreation Amendment Act, which gives the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) the power to initiate investigations into federations where there are allegations of malpractice.

Sascoc are nearly four years old. It’s time they showed their teeth.

Via The Times

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