IOC and China complicit in internet censorship

On July 14, 2001, the day Beijing was awarded the 2008 Olympics, the executive director of the International Olympic Committee said of the risk involved in giving China the Games:

"[We have to] bet on openness. Bet on the fact that in the coming seven years, openness, progress and development in many areas will be such that the situation will be improved. We are taking the bet that seven years from now we will see many changes.''

The IOC lost that bet.

The news that China has banned certain websites at the Olympic Village press center is hardly surprising. Suppressing dissent is what China does best. What is surprising is that the press is making excuses for the International Olympic Committee's role in this censorship, when they were fully complicit in the whole thing.

By awarding the 2008 Games to Beijing, the IOC opened the door to debates over China's myriad problems -- from human rights violations to Tibet to censorship. They chose to ignore those issues on the hope that hosting the Olympics would cause internal reform within China. But now that China isn't changing precisely the way the IOC wanted (ie, allowing an open Internet), the IOC is trying to play the role of the unknowing victim. Their hypocrisy is laughable.

Two weeks ago, IOC President Jacques Rogge trumpeted the fact that China would allow a free and open Internet for the press "for the first time ever." Yet reports today indicate that the IOC had agreed months earlier to allow the Chinese firewall. This came as news even to high-ranking IOC members like Kevin Gosper, the chairman of the organization's press commission. Gosper was left out of the loop, even though he was the one who had to deliver news of the firewall to the press. The IOC didn't even see fit to let its sacrificial lamb in on the secret. (Gosper lashed out at the IOC today in Beijing.)

It's amazing that anybody thought this was going to turn out any differently. The IOC was naive enough to believe the promises of the Chinese government and then when the Chinese backtracked on their word, the IOC covered it up until the last possible moment. The timing isn't clear, but it seems like the only reason the ban on websites was announced this week is because the media finally arrived in Beijing and realized it for themselves.

Even when caught with its pants down, the IOC still tried to save face by announcing that they had reached an "agreement" to allow the banning on certain websites. An agreement? Why would anyone think the Chinese government would wait for the IOC's say-so on doing anything? Isn't the whole point of this mess that China doesn't care what the outside world thinks? The IOC "agreed" to the censorship the same way someone who's getting mugged "agrees" to hand over their wallet.

The IOC wants the world to believe that the Olympics is about sports, not politics, even while openly boasting about how the Games would bring political reform to China. When things were going well, the IOC was only too happy to claim credit. Now that it's back to business as usual in China, the IOC wants to wash its hands of the mess. They wanted it both ways but have now come to the realization that, in China, that was never an option.

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