So much for the Olympic Games fostering a sense of international goodwill, peace and harmony.
While the fireworks-packed opening ceremonies of the Beijing Games were being aired across the globe, Russian tanks thundered into the disputed territory of South Ossetia to engage Georgia.
Moscow said it merely was responding to Georgia’s military attempts to retake the breakaway region, which is seeking self-determination for its 70,000 citizens, most of whom are ethnically distinct from Georgians.
Whatever provocation initiated the hostilities, it is being played out against the backdrop of the Beijing Games, where global leaders, including President George Bush, are playing the role of dutiful cheerleaders.
It shows anew the hollow hope of the IOC that athletic competition can transcend the cultural, religious and racial differences of the globe. If anything, the games often promote people’s differences and are used by governments to validate the righteousness of their systems.
China is seeking validation from the globe through the Beijing Games, as if a robust medal count indicates a strong quality of life.
China sees the Olympics as a coming-out party of sorts, a clear statement that its 1.3 billion citizens are readying to become the globe’s dominant force both economically and militarily.
Otherwise, the real world and the make-believe one are colliding in tightly controlled China.
China’s translators are apt to become uncomfortable if a reporter’s question to an athlete is viewed as potentially political.
That was the case as reporters tried to question two Georgian beach volleyball players about the strife in South Ossetia and whether it impinged on their performance.
That is an obligatory question in the U.S., one that any American athlete could see coming from a distance. But in China, where the state likes to think for the masses, that question provoked awkwardness in the translator until he finally was prompted to say that he was not inclined to ask the Georgian athletes such a politically charged question.
The real world apparently stops on the Tarmac of Beijing’s airport.
At least two of the leading players with USA Basketball promised to use their fame to highlight the pain and suffering in Darfur, Sudan, whose corrupt government has the support of China.
Both Kobe Bryant and LeBron James vowed to do their part, to publicize the genocidal madness in Darfur. So far, though, the two have been silent on Darfur, possibly because they now are immersed in the business of taking it one game at a time and restoring America’s basketball pride. They have to stay focused, free of distractions.
China’s communist government is doing all it can to make these a distraction-free Beijing Games, right down to revoking the visa of the distraction known as Joey Cheek, an Olympic gold and silver medalist in 2006.
The American speedskater, who has had the temerity to be critical of China’s role in Darfur, earned considerable praise after donating his $40,000 bonus from the USOC to a Darfur charity. His activism left Chinese officials with no other choice but to deny him entry into their country.
A USOC official called it “unfortunate” and noted it involved the Chinese government and a private citizen, which absolved the USOC of having to take a genuine position that possibly would offend America’s second-largest trading partner.
The USOC found itself in an embarrassing position after four cyclists donned USOC-devised protective masks as a counter to Beijing’s toxic air.
The USOC left their use to the discretion of the athletes until the four cyclists made the public relations mistake of actually employing them after landing in Beijing. The cyclists soon were issuing an apology in a prepared statement.
They said the wearing of the masks was a “precautionary measure” and not “an environmental or political statement.”
So these are the Happy Games.
It is all good in South Ossetia and Darfur, China’s government and Cheek had a slight misunderstanding, if that, and the soupy fog that passes as air is as pristine as a newborn’s bottom.