Fanning the flame of controversy

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

As the news pours out of China about the latest round of murdered monks and slaughtered nuns, as crowds around the world protest the Olympic torch, the prevailing wisdom now is that the Beijing Olympics are looking like, if we're lucky, merely a redo of the 1936 Berlin Games. And that's only in the unlikely event the bloodshed ends.

And so the International Olympic Committee's apologists are claiming the ridiculous decision to award this summer's games to China in the first place was a worthwhile gamble to modernize the host country even though it appears to be a bet that they will lose.

But this was no gamble.

No person with even a modicum of sense could have believed the Olympics would cause China to reverse course on human rights, democracy, freedom and the environment. To believe it overnight would turn into Switzerland is not gambling, it's insanity.

Nor would anyone think that freedom seekers in Tibet, their cries mostly ignored for the last 50 years, would decide to just stand down as world attention finally turns to them just because they didn't want to embarrass the very government they believe persecutes them.

No, this was a straight sellout, not a gamble. The IOC willingly purchased the unholy bill of goods China was peddling so its sponsoring corporations could, in turn, sell stuff to the Chinese people.

Maybe they offered up a prayer that it would work or maybe they just cashed the checks. Either way it's a decision that gets more shameful each day and, as we go past the point of turning back, the ultimate example of how the reality of the Olympics is at the polar extreme of its supposed "spirit."

And it's the people in charge's fault.

The Olympic torch makes its lone appearance in the United States Wednesday when it will be run along the waterfront in San Francisco. Crowds of protestors are expected to jeer its every flicker, if not try to extinguish it. This comes after disruptions in Greece, England and France as regular citizens do what little they can to rage against Chinese oppression and IOC corruption.

The Games still are four months away, and already this is running counter to everything the Olympic ideal and the IOC governance are supposed to be about.

Tibet is ground zero, an impoverished, mountainous region that has battled with China for its independence since the Yuan dynasty (we're talking 1300s). In 1959, China again seized control. Tibet and its exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, have been begging the world to care ever since. Few have.


Anti-China protestors hang banners as they scale the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge April 7 2008 in San Francisco, California.

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Now here comes the best and perhaps last chance for Tibet to make noise and regain (or gain, depending on your political perspective) independence; the ultimate now or never for these people.

So who didn't see this coming? Whether it will be nonviolent protests the Dalai Lama favors that historically have caused the Chinese to react violently or, as the Chinese government predicts, the deployment of waves of suicide bombers to Beijing, what we've seen is probably just the start.

Thus far, between 30 and 148 have died in Tibet and thousands more injured and imprisoned, depending on whom you believe. There is no independent verification because the Chinese already have broken the promise of unfettered access for independent groups and journalists. Even in the unlikely event the communist government is telling the truth, is 30 dead thus far a fair trade for the 400-meter individual medley?

All of this tumult doesn't even include what could be any number of other non-Tibetan homegrown dissident groups hell bent on using the Olympics to force freedom and reform. Or the ones opposed to Chinese involvement in the Sudan.

Moreover, Human Rights Watch claims that the Chinese leveled neighborhoods and displaced citizens in order to use workers they then cheated out of wages and health care to build substandard Olympic facilities lacking small items like emergency exits and fire sprinklers.

The State Department, meanwhile, has warned U.S. citizens to expect to be spied on (even in hotel rooms), followed and even have their rooms searched without their knowledge. (I figure this article pretty much assures I'm on that list.)

In less draconian concerns, the pollution is said to be horrific, the food untrustworthy and just recently the Chinese began installing that cutting-edge technology known as the "sit toilet" at some venues after discovering that the rest of the world isn't too keen on squatting over a hole in the ground to do their business.

Even if there, somehow, was peace this August, awarding the Olympics to China could go down as the single dumbest sports decision in history.

If anything close to the worst is realized then the shame should fall not solely on this communist regime but also on the IOC for playing right along.

The powers that be were so drunk on the possibility of Chinese markets that they just decided to ignore every red flag. This made no sense back in 2001 when the vote was taken. It makes less as it becomes clear that all of China's empty promises of progress aren't just being broken but are being replaced by a frightening totalitarianism.

Not that there will be a full boycott. There is no courage in the West with this much corporate money at stake. In years past the IOC has banned nations from competing in the games due to human rights issues (South Africa) and made incredible threats on host nations (Greece nearly bankrupted itself on security costs), but no one dares ask anything of China.

Every world leader offers nothing but tacit support with their silence. And who knows, maybe at this point no major nation, let alone the United States, even has the moral authority to demand much of anything.

IOC president Jacques Rogge claims there is "no momentum" for a boycott, and that sounds believable, certainly more believable than his reasoning that it "would be unfair to the athletes."

No one cares about the athletes, certainly not anyone who supported this. If this was about the athletes, they would have held the Olympics in a stable country so they didn't have to have their games marred.

If they cared about the athletes, they wouldn't send them into the smog to be forever fearful they or their family gets caught in the crossfire or just a fire. They wouldn't have set the stage for revolution and crackdowns.

No, just like always with the IOC, this was about business. The First World will sit idly and watch it all go down, just so companies can use Michael Phelps or LeBron James to sell product.

The Olympics always have been an operation of phoniness, a lot of schmaltzy "ideals" peddled by house media such as NBC. But this is taking it to the extreme.

The Chinese even have given up on the bold promises about how there will be no disturbances. They're trying to ban live broadcasts from Tiananmen Square, and they admit suicide squads might be nettlesome.

Their original plan appeared to include having every potential protester murdered, imprisoned or scared of being murdered or imprisoned.

At this point, the IOC only can hope that sickening idea works so they can ignore the violence, sip champagne and call the games a success. What do a hundred dead monks matter anyway when there are so many Big Macs to move?

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