Today, I want to consider the imminent Winter Olympic Games in Beijing – – not because I cannot wait for them to start nor do I have any significant interest in the events. Rather, I want to consider the start of the Winter Games this year as another instance where sports intersect politics. That intersection is rarely a pleasant and uplifting moment; I do not expect this one will be either. Moreover, this upcoming intersection is a three-dimensional one because sports and politics are also traversing an axis involving money. Oh, joy…
There are numerous “actors” in this impending drama. I am happy to consign the IOC and all the International Governing Bodies for the various sports to the role of bankers, financiers, fat cats – – you get the idea. They live mainly on the money axis which has major influence on anyone and everyone who lives mainly on the politics axis. Political decisions provide the opportunity to make money – ostensibly in an honorable fashion – and the money-folks share some of that wealth with the folks who make favorable decisions in the political realm. That mutually beneficial interaction continues apace with the precision of a Swiss watch, and it is at work in these Games.
The “problem” facing folks in the political realm is that they rarely can behave without someone somewhere disagreeing with whatever it is they seek to do. In China, those folks are labeled as “dissidents” and the people in power seek to minimize their voice and their effectiveness on the areas of disagreement. That is the way things are in China; that is not the way things are done in other parts of the world; both sides here need to recognize those two facts; both sides here need to agree to disagree on which “system” is best.
Into that muck and mire, we now need to add a whole bunch of athletes who have spent major portions of their lives to this point preparing to compete in the Games that provide the money that will flow from their endeavors. All would be well if there were not political opponents of the Chinese society/political system who would choose to use the Games as a way to try to effect change in China. Those people are motivated by their belief that things could be “better” in China if only the Chinese government would behave the way those people think the Chinese government ought to behave.
Therein lies a significant problem – – and potentially a danger for some athletes:
- The Chinese government does not accept the premise of those who would change the way China goes about its political and social business that things would be much better with significant changes implemented.
- These games are being conducted in China – – where there are laws on the books that can/will be enforced by the Chinese government.
- The fact that things are done differently in other countries – or in an athlete’s home country – is not particularly relevant.
Long before the Games were to begin, the political/social controversy surfaced. I should not need to make a list of all the areas of disagreement that exist between the “Chinese way” and the “democratic way”; suffice it to say there are numerous bones of contention. The US government – and some other governments – have taken a purely symbolic posture here and have declared that they will send athletes to compete but will not send any diplomats to be VIP spectators at these Games. Rather than couch my opinion as to the effectiveness of such a move in lofty terms of diplomacy, let me say that these actions are as likely to effect significant change in China as a one-legged man winning an ass kicking contest. Nonetheless, having taken that action, people outside China can pat themselves on the back in the assurance that they “done good”.
The word is out to the athletes and team officials; the Chinese government does not want protests and demonstrations. That may not be the way we do things here, but the Games are not here. If someone chooses to demonstrate in a way that is either illegal or offensive to the Chinese authorities, the rules that will apply to the adjudication of the matter will be the Chinese rules. Almost 50 years ago, there was a TV series here in the US called Baretta; one of the lines in the theme song for that series was:
“Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time…”
For athletes and team officials in China for these games, might I suggest that this become one of your mantras during your days there…
One of the things that has been reported about the upcoming Games is that all athletes will have to report a variety of health data on a daily basis as a COVID protocol for the Games. They will do this via an app that will have to be downloaded to electronic devices that the athletes have with them.
- Memo to Olympic Athletes: That app you will have to install onto your device(s) can and most certainly will collect other data about you and your movements and your discussions and your activities.
- Be careful; be very careful…
- And when you get home and “delete the app”, consider that it might still be there without you knowing that it is still there.
Lest anyone think that the Chinese officials are planning to look the other way if there are “improper behaviors” at the Games, consider these words from Yang Shu – the director general for the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Winter Games;
“Any behavior or speech that is against the Olympic spirit, especially against the Chinese laws and regulations are also subject to certain punishment.”
The triple point of sports, politics and money about to play out in a very public manner could be interesting – – and it could be dangerous. Athletes who also see themselves as Social Justice Warriors have probably bought into the idea that “Silence/Inactivity Equals Complicity” when faced with any sort of wrongdoing. I will not be watching a lot of the TV presentations for these Games because winter sports do not particularly interest me, but I do hope that there are no incidents that result in long term negative repercussions for any participants in the Games.
Finally, today has been more about politics than I normally prefer to include; so, let me close with this observation by the economist John Kenneth Galbraith:
“Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………