Daily Archives: 7 April 2008

Olympian Values (UPDATE)

I’ve been sitting back and enjoying the show that is the ongoing farce of the Chinese Olympics. I have two main reasons for not taking a stand. Firstly, I’m quite ambivalent about the Olympics in general and so singling out China feels a little hypocritical. Secondly, I’m acutely aware that in a sense both sides are right and both sides need each other in order to progress.

Simply put, if the Olympics were not being held in China this summer, the profile of Tibet would not be as high as it is now (higher than it has been at any point in the past 12 years in my view). So is this a case of the pro-Olympics people being right – that the Olympics is raising these issues? Well yes, up to a point. But if it wasn’t for the protesters opposing the Olympics these issues would not be getting an airing.

One thing in particular though that does amuse me is this constant hailing of “Olympian values”. What are these exactly? I get the whole world coming together thing, but is there really anything noble in a bunch of athletes doggedly competing with one another to see who is best? These pressures lead to athletes taking performance enhancing drugs; the Russians and the Chinese have traditionally taken this to extremes, hothousing athletes in order to wave their medal successes around as a status symbol proving their political ideologies are superior. Hitler tried the same trick, only to be made to look like a fool. What is so great about all this global willy waving?

And if there is something noble about the Olympics, how come the IOC don’t insist that countries who host the games must abide by, for example, minimal human rights criteria? If you want to join the EU, the price you have to pay is to sort out your human rights record. As a result, Turkey is actively doing so. What is stopping the IOC from doing the same? One can only infer that egalitarianism isn’t an Olympian value.

Arguably, the truth is quite the opposite. One thing the IOC do insist on is that host nations pass laws to stop companies from being able to use the word “Olympics” in order to promote themselves unless they are official sponsors of the events. Freedom of speech comes second fiddle to worshiping at the altar of capitalism. This is a price which China had far less of a problem with paying than the UK.

Olympian values then seem to be rooted entirely in body fascism, ruthless competition, vainglorious pride and the worst excesses of monopolistic commercial practice. These are the values that the Olympics variously inspires and insists upon. If supporters of the Games wish us to treat them as anything other than a political football, then perhaps they should get their own house in order first?

UPDATE: One thing I forgot to mention here was the comment by the police chief in charge of handling the Olympics protests yesterday who made the extraordinary claim that under the law, if you supported the Olympic torch on Sunday you were not regarded as a protester and vice versa. Apart from the fact that under the strict letter of the law this is balls, think about it for a second. If you are a supporter of freedom and democracy, the government considers you a potential enemy of the state. If you are an apologist for a repressive dictatorship, the government considers you to be friendly. Good night.