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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

charades and other games « Previous | |Next »
July 29, 2008

Are the Olympic Games really worth the trouble any more? Is there anyone left anywhere who still believes it's genuinely everything it's cracked up to be - a testament to the human spirit, an ode to healthy sportsmanship, an exercise in international peace and goodwill, a politics- corporate- and drug-free zone?

We've been through the torch relay which doubled as a celebration of happiness in Tibet. We know that 'tightened security' will protect those attending from terrorists, and those watching from adverse impressions of China, even if it means limiting the ability of networks to broadcast anything at all. Tonight's Foreign Correspondent is going to tell us about a crackdown on dissidents. Amnesty says human rights abuses have increased, not decreased, since Chinese authorities agreed to back off the citizenry as part of the deal granting them the games in the first place.

Is any of this drastically different from the systematic removal of the homeless, poor, sick, untidy or otherwise unphotogenic people all cities undertake in preparation for hosting the games? Don't all host cities go to absurd lengths to make out they've been Disneyland clones all along? Half of this country went berserk when Cathy Freeman politicised the whole show with her Aboriginal flag. Politics-free indeed.

The only corporate logos flaunted by athletes are the various national insignia and the occasional stuffed animal, but McDonalds and Coke are not the only sustenance providers allowed in the stadium simply because that's the way the crowds like it. All moments are Kodak moments and all transactions are Visa transactions. Some corporate sponsorship deals are pretty much permanent, so the ad breaks during the games coverage is more tedious than usual. There is no such thing as sport without sponsorship any more, and the Olympic Games is no exception.

There's also no such thing as sport without drugs any more, regardless of John Fahey's best efforts (assuming even those efforts are genuine, which could be a misguided assumption). As Ben Pobjie cruelly points out, they're fooling nobody. Luke Davies suggested in The Monthly that "all athletes should be rigorously tested, only so that we might know which pharmaceutical companies to send the medals to".

Maybe the problem of performance-enhancing drugs would be more easily dealt with if we just called it a form of sponsorship?

After 140-odd years of modern Olympic Games it's a bit of a stretch to believe that records are still being routinely broken when the human body hasn't evolved. It's been a while since Thomas J Hicks was done for taking strychnine and brandy to improve his performance in the 1904 marathon and all sorts of things have improved since then. Sure we're more healthy, taller, stronger, better equipped and have more sophisticated training regimes and probably better stop watches, but we've also got better drugs. We're also better informed. That swimmers all have enormous jaws and car park-size gaps between their teeth is not just a coincidence.

So what's the point of this four yearly charade? It's essentially a highly politicised promotion of sponsor products and illegal drugs. When do we get to the point where we can quit pretending it's anything else?

| Posted by Lyn at 3:58 PM | | Comments (30)
Comments

Comments

Lyn,
I think they should all go back to competing in the nude.

I am looking forward to it though. Last year my cousin was in the rowing and that was very exciting. I enjoy the athletics the most.
Don't think I will be watching the advert competition.

"I think they should all go back to competing in the nude."

Don't be silly Les. What self-respecting male competitor would turn up to the winter olympics if they did that?

It's become an excuse for selling adverts and nationalism. Neither, of course, have anything to do with politics, say the naive sport people. Presumably, they have forgotten the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

It's a public entertainment spectacle in the Situationist sense watched on large high definition television sets. The 2008 Olympics will provide a unique opportunity for China to show the world a vision of itself, and what it has to offer as a nascent global power.

The Beijing Games will display China, not change it. During the games the Chinese regime will do what it takes to put on a good show.In the short term, freedom will shrink for those Chinese who are always on the threshold of repression because of an authoritarian clampdown. The Olympics will allow the Chinese to take pride in their progress and to show the rest of the world that China is a peaceful rising power in the Asia Pacific region.

Anti-modernist protests against China obscure the fact that the Olympics, like the People’s Republic of China, is now inherently meshed with Global capital. 2008 will celebrate this integration, which may well presage a new mode of capitalism, in which authoritarian State control co-exists with a piratical capital in which everything can be mass-replicated, but nothing new will ever be invented.

Gary,
As all those Televisions are made in China I wonder if they are all preprogrammed to go black if China starts losing.

But seriously we seem to have many World comps now and the gloss of the Olympics has dulled a bit but it is still the major world competition. China has many issues and the Olympics have enabled world access and the possibility of resolving some. For all its faults China has opened itself up to the world to be scrutinized. The media can go to any country and make it look bad/evil if that is the intention.
I am going to enjoy the show and not listen to the negativity.

The Olympics would be as much a political event as an athletic spectacle.

Les,
spectacles are to be enjoyed---recall the "spectacles" of the old Roman empire. Life is a carnival as The Band sang way back in the 1970s about the false nature of show business and its impact on reality.

We do have a view of China. China is booming. China’s cities are big and modern.China has serious problems—pollution, rural poverty, water shortages, the suppression of civil liberties, corruption, and the abysmal condition of its universities and schools. The problems are understandable, and hardly a state secret. A pre-Olympic crackdown is under way, with troublemakers and vocal opponents of the Games being confined to jail or house arrest for the crime of subverting state power.

For global entrepreneurs China is the Wild East—a free zone where anything goes, operating costs are low, and new wealth can be built and flaunted. Beijing, however, is a political town, where the Communist Party, has abandoned its egalitarian ideals in for economic growth.

This is going to be China's century. So lets celebrate the new order of things. We can accept that the Olympics are as much about politics as they are about sport, notwithstanding--as Nan points out--the frequent calls not to "politicize" the Olympics that come from top officials of the International Olympic Committee, the Beijing Games' hosts and even the U.S. administration.

I will always admire Cathy Freeman for flying the Aboriginal flag ( a bit of pride in what you are is a good thing) and Dawn Fraser for swimming in the moat ( which they don't mention on her wikipedia page).

The China's regime's principal story line is to present a prosperous, orderly,internationally "normal" and globalized China. The e cultural emphasis is on image or face.

No doubt the American media will swing between the "American China Dream" (a vision of the Chinese as about to convert to our ways) and the "American China Nightmare" (a vision of the Chinese government as posing a threat to all we hold dear).

My my 140 million people in China employed in the car industry. When they run out of people to buy them they will no doubt switch to building tanks.
Time to blow the cobwebs off that learn to speak book.

Anon,
The tectonic plates in the world of nations are shifting.

"The tectonic plates in the world of nations are shifting"

That's pretty much my take on what this year's Olympics will be demonstrating. Sport is a side issue. Not getting caught for drugs simply means your country is more pharmaceutically advanced than others who do get caught.

Argy bargy about pollution and security are not about the games but about the political entity that is China. China with Maccas, Coke, Kodak and Johnson and Johnson. It could just as well be a film festival or science fair as a sporting event. The point is to sell stuff, in this case, the idea of China.

The opening ceremony will be the best ever I reckon.

What, better than Sydney? That's a bit traitorous isn't it Les?

Lyn,
Yes and not a Victor mower or a Hills hoist will be seen. No hold on do they own them yet?


Funny isn't it that some media groups are allowed to use the word "Olympics" and others are relegated to calling it Beijing 2008. I suppose thats just the icing on the cake of your argument.

If they don't own them yet Les, it's only a matter of time. Hopefully we'll get to keep the Tap Dogs though.

I hadn't noticed what it's been called. Too busy trying figure out how to avoid it altogether. I don't like my chances.

Lyn,

And here's me thinking you would be a big fan of the synchronized swimming and the lawn bowls.
Sometimes Lyn you surprise me and I think that I don't really know you at all.

Lyn,
you can see the shift in global power towards China in the Doha Development Round talks. China demanded the right to shield its crucial farm products (rice, cotton, sugar) from import competition, and to delay cutting some of its tariffs for years on these products.

They--China and India--have a reasonable case as millions depend on subsistence agriculture. What the G7 countries (especially the US) see is new markets amongst the growing middle class for their products.

The issue is not easily resolved.

Lyn,
you can see the shift in power in China's refusal to allow open internet access to foreign journalists. The IOC has conceded.

Nan,
not just the internet. It appears that Beijing is in a security lockdown for the Games.

Les, you got me on the synchronised swimming. I can't resist old Hollywood style anything.

Gary,
Am I right in thinking that it's also in America's interests to keep tarrifs in place?

The internet/media problems are amazing. You could reasonably expect that they'd make life difficult in those areas, but to refuse access the way they appear to be doing is contrary to the interests of China, the games, the IOC and the global audience.

I can't help enjoying seeing the IOC gobsmacked, but thought China would have a better understanding of how it is perceived by the rest of the world. The apparent concern with terrorist threats is obviously for the US market, but who anywhere is supposed to be impressed with an information blackout?

Lyn,
it now appears that the senior hierarchy in the International Olympic Committee struck a secret deal with China to censor the international media during the Beijing Games. Apparently the Chinese had never promised "full access" to the internet. Apparently China had only ever pledged "sufficient and convenient" access to the internet.

So who was ressponsible for the lie about uncensored internet access announced two years ago? The IOC? Why?

The IOC is essentially an international (political) body whose purpose is organising and promoting the event. To my mind, the Why did the IOC lie about this? is less important than, Why did they pick China when they knew this was going to happen?

It's pretty safe to assume that the IOC is as corrupt as any other body of its kind. So who paid who how much and what sort of deals were made to secure it for Beijing when stuff like access would count against Beijing? What was going on in international politics and trade at the time the decision was made that might have had some bearing on the outcome?

If that sounds too much like a conspiracy theory then I guess the answer is that the IOC is stupid. Which is also plausible.

a deal was cut for sure. What is unclear what sort of deal.
Still The West, with the Opium War stain on its past, lost its moral high ground a long time ago. They appear to have forgotten this imperial history.I am sure the Chinese haven't.

It would be more like several deals wouldn't it Gary? China's interests in the US economy, China's relationship with Russia, China the new marketing opportunity for Western commodities, the new media frontier. The possibilities are endless.

Lyn
China has lifted blocks on several long-barred websites after criticism of their censorship.This means that sites including those of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the BBC Chinese language service are accessible in Beijing, Shanghai and possibly further afield.

Nan,
The Great Firewall still remains.Many of the banned websites, words and phrases are related to the government's so-called "five big enemies" or no-gone zones: Tibetan independence, Taiwan independence, China's Muslims in the western province of Xinjiang, the Falun Gong movement and dissidents.

It's kind of like watching the Libs on climate change. One minute access is blocked, the next you can access some stuff, the next you can only access some stuff if you're in the right building.

Those who know how to use proxy servers will probably be teaching others.

Nobody needs to access Falun Gong websites to report who won gold, but it seems reasonable to expect that internet access will be half of the reporting coming out of the place for the duration. It's illustrative of the between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place that the Chinese authorities are in, with their open economy and closed society. Taking on the olympics was a big challenge on that level.

Apparently no deal was done. There were just assurances that journalists would have free access to the internet with both sides (Chinese and IOC) knowing that this would not be the case, but keeping quiet about it.