Leading article: Enjoy the Olympics, and hope

Share
Related Topics

The world's biggest festival of sport, the Olympic Games, begins next Friday in Beijing. We shall, at least, have no trouble remembering when it starts – at 8.08pm on 08/08/08. As our report today points out, the sheer scale of the Games has never been greater. The Olympic statistics baffle the imagination – 10,708 athletes from 205 countries will participate in 28 sports and 302 events. There are 24 new venues for the Games – some of them remarkable pieces of modernist architecture – which involved more than a million workers. The cost came to £19.7bn, plus security – not a precedent that London should wish to follow for the Games in 2012.

It will, of course, be a wonderful spectacle which will unite a global audience of hundreds of millions of people in a way nothing else can. People in every nation on Earth will be spectators – certainly tens of millions of Britons will be watching and cheering on our athletes, such as Tom Daley and our equestrian and yachting teams.

This is China's moment, and, tellingly, China seems likely to underpin its status as the major economic power of the 21st century by winning more medals at these Games than anyone else – including the US. China is, overwhelmingly, proud of the Beijing Olympics, which confirm its new standing in the world.

But the point of the Olympics is not simply to be bigger, grander, more expensive than the ones before. The Olympic ideals are lofty – they mark the moral aspirations as well as the sporting ambitions of the international community. The Games are meant to be a force for good – and they can be. In contemporary terms, they are a means to foster international good will, to be an agent for environmental progress, for encouraging human rights. It would be to ignore reality – as we point out below – to suggest that this has been the outcome to date. But it is still important that the Olympics have, at least, raised awareness of China's failings. And if athletes mount the victors' podium with T-shirts drawing attention to the problems, we should cheer them on.

Indeed, while many people in China were indignant that the journey of the Olympic flame around the world was used by Western activists to demonstrate against the Chinese record in Tibet, the demonstrations did raise global consciousness of the plight of the Tibetans. Undoubtedly, the actions of individuals such as Steven Spielberg in refusing to participate in the Games prompted China to justify its policy on Darfur.

When the Games get under way, there will be countless opportunities for the global leaders present to make courteously clear to their hosts their disquiet about China's foreign-policy failures concerning Sudan and Burma, about the repression in Tibet, about the plight of Chinese Christians and other minorities, and the treatment of human-rights activists. They need look no further than the Amnesty International report last week on China's record. Every European head of government present should express concern about the conviction last year for "inciting subversion" of a human-rights activist, Hu Jia, after he had told a European Union parliamentary hearing that China had not lived up to the promises it had made to the Olympic authorities on human rights.

There were real hopes that these would be the first "green" Games – and those hopes have not been realised. The pollution in Beijing not only raises concerns for the athletes breathing this particulate-heavy atmosphere; it ought to make us concerned for the unfortunate citizens who breathe it every day. It may be that the authorities can, by banning even greater numbers of vehicles from Beijing during the Games, and closing more smog-producing factories, clean the air – if they do not, the outcome of the Games will be seen to be compromised. And, remember, hundreds of thousands of peoples' homes were arbitrarily destroyed to make way for the Olympic site.

Journalists have also complained about restrictions on foreign press seeking access to various internet sites – a small instance of more general government interference in web access. For all that, the liberties of citizens in China are unimaginably better than they once were. Nonetheless, the Tiananmen Square massacre, 19 years ago, casts a long shadow.

As for the Games, it is important that individual achievements are not compromised by drug taking – already the American relay team has been disqualified. The Olympics is not a contest between rival pharmaceutical companies: the draconian action taken, for instance, against Dwain Chambers will be justified if it means other athletes stay clean.

But for all the problems and the disappointments about unrealised aspirations, the Beijing Games will still be the greatest show on Earth, 17 days of bliss for sports lovers and a compelling spectacle for everyone else. We wish it well.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Sub-Editor: Canada is seen as a peaceful nation, but violent crime isn’t as rare as you might think

Jeffrey Simpson
The bustling Accident & Emergency ward at Milton Keynes Hospital  

The NHS needs the courage to adapt and survive

Nigel Edwards
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?