Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Standing up and speaking out

Good for former Canadian Olympic swimmers Shannon Shakespeare and Nikki Dryden, who delivered an open letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao at the Chinese Mission to the United Nations today. I've written about this before, but in my mind, politics are inextricably linked with sport, and it's far too late to pull them out now. Kudos to Shakespeare and Dryden for taking a stand on an important issue using their athletic status: I'd much rather see that than just another ad for sneakers or Gatorade.

This also shows the futility of the Belgian Olympic Committee trying to impose a "gag order" on their athletes. As James Christie's Globe and Mail story linked above points out, the IOC already has relegations to allow athletes freedom of speech while at the same time ensuring the entire games don't become about politics: attempts by individual organizations to try and clamp down even harder are over the top.

It was also nice to see Steven Spielberg back out of his involvement with these games due to China's dubious human-rights record at home and abroad. The withdrawal of such a prominent name should do a good bit to raise awareness of the very real world problems China is contributing to, and should show people that this year's Olympics cannot be viewed purely in sporting terms. Sure, the athletic achievements are still the main story, but you can't just whitewash the background.

As I've mentioned before, it's extremely unfortunate that China's doing all they can to spin these Olympics, including keeping a database on foreign journalists. However, stories like this one show that this is essentially futile: in the famous words of Leia Organa, "The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers." These Olympics are going to get hammered on China's rights record no matter how much the government tries to surpress the media: they'd be better off just presenting their own side of the story.

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