China is not a suitable host for the Olympic ideal

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The Independent Online

If the bookmakers are right, China will today be awarded the 2008 summer Olympic Games. Appropriately, the International Olympic Committee will take its decision in Moscow, which in 1980 was the last venue to arouse comparable controversy. It was wrong then for the Olympics to be held in the Soviet Union; it would be scarcely less wrong for the Games to go to Beijing in 2008.

This, of course, is not the argument advanced by the varied interests that want China to succeed. There are the sponsors, such as Nike, Coca-Cola and Kodak, salivating at the prospect of privileged access to the world's largest, but still relatively untapped, consumer market. Others, scenting economic bonanzas of their own, will maintain that unlike in 1993, when Beijing narrowly lost to Sydney in the contest to host the 2000 Games, the Chinese capital is now technologically and financially up to the job.

And, they will add, what of the Buggins' Turn principle, whereby disappointed losers of one cycle are winners one or two later? After all, Australian cities had failed with several bids before Sydney was successful. Athens, defeated by Atlanta for the 1996 centenary Games, will host those of 2004. So does not Beijing deserve them now?

Finally there are the human rights optimists, convinced that intense international attention and a boom in foreign visitors will oblige China to change its ways as righteous opprobrium from afar never will. Unfortunately, people nursed similar illusions about the Olympics of 1936 and 1980, when Nazi Berlin and Communist Moscow merely swept the riff-raff off the streets, smiled broadly – and after a few weeks resumed business as usual. Worse, both regimes proclaimed their Games as proof of the rightness of their causes. In China, business as usual means continuing repression in Tibet, continuing persecution of political dissidents and sects such as the Falun Gong, as well as scores of executions every week – many of which we would deem mockeries of justice.

Whatever its status as a regional, perhaps one day global superpower, this is surely not a suitable country to host a sporting festival intended to celebrate the dignity and equality of human beings, whatever their faith or politics. Admission of China to the World Trade Organisation might be pragmatic acknowledgement of economic reality. The IOC should prove the bookies wrong, and acknowledge Beijing's political reality by denying it the Olympic Games.

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