Saturday, August 02, 2008

Countdown to Beijing – the Olympics, business, politics just days away

It’s now down to just a matter of days, the years of planning have come down to five days. The opening ceremonies for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games are just five days away and on the eve of the most important event The People's Republic of China are ready to open their doors to an unsuspecting world.

Sponsors have invested more than $866 million in the Beijing Games, broadcast revenues will exceed $1.44 billion. There is every likelihood that these Games will have little to do with athletic accomplishment and everything to do with the misguided beliefs The Lords of the Rings (The International Olympic Committee) corporate America and other Global companies turning their backs. Instead of standing by decency and morality, their investment instead is all mighty dollar and more than anything else an opportunity for the China’s Communist Government to promote their values, beliefs and lifestyles. The marriage of Olympic ideals are facing their toughest test since the Nazi Games held in Berlin in 1936.

Friday, Chinese President President Hu Jintao in Beijing met with the media, offering his perspective on how the leader of the world’s most populated nation feels about upcoming Beijing Games.

"We hope that foreign reporters while in China will respect our laws and rules, report objectively and help communication and understanding between China and the peoples of the world," Hu said.

According to a Reuters report: in his nearly six years as China's top leader, Hu has been interviewed by foreign media only a handful of times. Friday's meeting was designed to carry the same message Hu's government's hopes the Olympics will do for China — promote a friendlier face for the nation.

"The determining factor in securing the success of the Olympic Games is to work vigorously to promote the Olympic spirit featuring friendship, solidarity and peace," Hu said. "The key is to ensure that athletes from all countries will have a level playing field to compete fairly."

"We need to ensure that our friends from the five continents can further enhance their mutual understanding and deepen their friendship during the games," Hu said.

Two dozen reporters where invited to the press conference and only questions submitted in advance where permitted. When Georg Blume of the German newspaper Die Zeit tried to pose a question at the end on human rights, Hu ignored him. Needless to say freedom of the press isn’t a hallmark of Hu’s government.

``Since Beijing won the bid for the games on July 13, 2001, the Chinese government and the Chinese people have been working in earnest to honor the commitments made to the international community,'' Hu said.

"That the Olympic Games will be held in China, a country that accounts for one fifth of humanity, shows the trust placed on China by the world and is itself a contribution by China to the world.
"The Beijing Olympic Games belongs to the Chinese people, and more importantly also belongs to the people from around the world.
"We pay close attention to raising the level of our people in terms of civility. We have launched a nationwide campaign among 400 million Chinese children and teenagers concerning the Olympic education.
"We work vigorously to encourage the Chinese people to be gracious, courteous, warm, friendly and hospitable hosts for the Games."

If you believe in the tooth fairy – Hu assured the assembled 24 media members change is coming to China but the changes promised seven years ago when China was selected to host the 2008 Summer Olympics seven years, will only come after the Games have finished.

"At the same time as constantly deepening reform of the economic system and achieving sound and fast economic and social development, we will continue pursuing comprehensive reforms including reforms of the political system."
The government will "continue expanding socialist democracy and developing a state of socialist rule of law," Hu said, calling for a "lively, stable and harmonious political setting".
"The current dream of the Chinese people is to accelerate building a modern country, realize the great renaissance of the Chinese nation, and with the peoples of the world seek peaceful progress, amicable co-existence and harmonious development."

And after suggesting change will come after the Games – Hu offered this comment when asked about the political nature of the Beijing Games.

"It is only inevitable that people from different countries and regions may not see eye to eye with one another on some different issues.
"And I think in this context, we should enter into consultations on an equal footing to narrow our differences and expand our common ground on the basis of mutual respect.
"I don't think that politicizing the Olympic Games will do anything good to addressing any of the issues.
"And I think such an attempt also runs counter to the spirit of the Olympic Games and goes against the shared aspiration of people from across the world.
"At the end of the day, such an attempt will also undermine the Olympic movement."

What Hu seems to have forgotten (or never really cared about to begin with) (are) the promises made to the world media in Moscow on July 13, 2001 when the Chinese government promised a free and open media and press. Earlier in the week the International Olympic Committee acknowledged that the Chinese government was blocking several key human rights websites and reporters emails being sent from and received in China where be blocked as well.

Bloomberg Media reported Friday evening: the International Olympic Committee Friday denied it had struck a deal to allow Chinese authorities to censor the Internet, contradicting IOC official Kevin Gosper, who said this week that such an agreement had been reached. It said in a later statement that it was ``pleased that the issues are quickly being resolved.''

``This access has always been assured by BOCOG and the Chinese authorities and the IOC is pleased to see these are assurances being upheld,'' the IOC said.

Sophie Peer, China campaign coordinator for Amnesty International, said this was a rare case of the government changing policy over media issues.

``We certainly haven't seen much giving in in our work with this government,'' Peer said in an interview. ``This is one small positive step, but it's still not near enough.''

Web sites for organizations such as Free Tibet, which campaigns for an end to China's occupation of the Himalayan region, and Falungong, a religious movement banned in China, remained inaccessible at the main media center.

Web viewers in the media zone were able to see stories such as ``Dalai Lama says China lacks sincerity'' on the BBC's Chinese Web site. Amnesty's host page answered a question about whether China had fulfilled its promise to improve human rights before the Games with: ``Not when expressing your opinion in China can result in jail, torture or death.''

President Bush will travel to Beijing to attend the opening ceremonies. Bush attended the 2002 Salt Lake City Games in his role as leader of the host country. President Bush won’t be the only world leader attending the Opening Ceremonies sitting with Chinese President Hu.

Friday, United States House of Representative Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent the following letter to President Bush, ahead of his trip to Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, urging him to make human rights and freedom of the press in China top priorities of his visit.

“On the eve of your trip to China to attend the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, the human rights situation in China and Tibet is worsening and new restrictions are being imposed on international journalists as they attempt to cover the Olympic Games. I am writing to ask that you make human rights and freedom of the press top priorities of your visit.

“The Olympic Charter states that the goal of the Olympic Games should be to promote "a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity." Sadly, the Chinese government has failed to create an atmosphere that honors the Olympic traditions of freedom and openness. In fact, human rights conditions have worsened in the time leading up to the Olympic Games as Chinese authorities have intensified efforts to detain and imprison people who have publicly spoken out about conditions in China and Tibet.

“In exchange for the privilege of hosting the Olympic Games, the Chinese government made commitments regarding freedom of the press, human rights, and the environment. Many of these commitments have been violated repeatedly and blatantly. Prominent human rights defenders have been arrested and imprisoned. International and Chinese journalists have been censored, threatened, and detained. Most recently, we have learned that international journalists are being blocked from accessing websites deemed offensive by the Chinese government. This action is in direct contradiction of Beijing's commitment to allow international media free access to cover the Olympics in China. (’’)

“The recent dialogue between the Chinese government and representatives of the Dalai Lama did not result in any progress. Thousands of peaceful Tibetans still languish in prisons in the aftermath of protests that began in March. Chinese authorities stepped up their so-called "patriotic education" campaigns that require Tibetan Buddhists -- regardless of their true thoughts, beliefs, and convictions -- to publicly denounce the Dalai Lama.

“On the international front, the Chinese government's policies of supporting the genocidal regime in Sudan and the military junta in Burma run counter to the interests of peace and stability in the world. It is my hope that you will persuade China to end its support for the human rights abuses in these countries.

“On July 30, the U.S. House of Representatives considered a resolution calling on the Chinese government to end abuses of human rights, cease its repression of Tibetan and Uighur citizens and end its support for the governments of Sudan and Burma. The resolution also calls on the President to make strong statements on human rights and meet with the families of jailed prisoners of conscience while in Beijing. It passed by a vote of 419-1.

“Your recent meetings with Chinese dissidents at the White House are to be commended. However, your participation at the opening ceremony of the Olympics will send a signal to the Chinese people and the international community that could be misperceived as your approval, and that of the American people, for the draconian policies of the Chinese government. Therefore, it is essential that you unambiguously speak out for human rights and meet with the families of jailed prisoners of conscience while you are in Beijing.”

In regard to the July 30 U.S. House of Representatives non-action (the ‘considered’ resolution) Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Liu Jianchao's remarks on the China-related Resolution Adopted by the US House offered these insightful comments: “In disregard of China's firm opposition, the US House insisted on adopting the resolution proposed by a handful of anti-China congressmen, which has fully exposed their ulterior motives to politicize, disrupt and sabotage the Beijing Olympic Games. This action itself is a blasphemy to the spirit of the Olympics and runs counter to the aspiration of people of all countries including the US. We have made solemn representations to the US Administration and legislature, urging the US side to stop the unprincipled deeds of a handful of anti-China Congressmen by concrete actions.

“To hold a successful Olympic Games is a century-cherished dream of the Chinese people, and also the shared aspiration of people all over the world. We are fully confident that we can make the Beijing Olympic Games a high-level sports event with distinguishing features under the joint efforts and support of the Olympic family. We urge a few anti-China forces in the US congress to make the right judgment and change their course to avoid further harming their images.”

The London Telegraph one of Britain’s bigger daily papers Friday published a story that looked at propaganda and the Beijing Games.

When the organizers advertised for volunteers according to the report to deal with baffled foreigners unused to local ways, a million people applied. Most of the 100,000 selected came from universities around the country, such as Wang Wenjia, a 21-year-old medical student who has trained eight hours a day for two weeks.

“First of all, it’s a great opportunity to be part of the Games,” he said, switching back and forth between Chinese and nervous but enthusiastic English, which he has been practising for this moment. “This is a once-in-a-hundred-year thing. Though I can’t compete in the field as an athlete, I can give my heart as a volunteer, give my passion. To offer my service to the spirit of the Olympics is very important.”

It didn’t take long for The Telegraph to find ‘journalists’ ready to sell the party line. Sima Nan, a television celebrity turned writer and blogger who blasted the few liberal newspapers in China for selling out to America. Sima believes that China is not ready for personal freedom, nor suited to one man, one vote. Liberals, he claims, want to do away with “Chineseness” and turn the country into a pale imitation of the West.

When asked about whether the Olympics were not supposed to represent universal values, he told The Telegraph its values were very different from those we have in mind.

“There is no contradiction between Chinese attitudes and the spirit of the Olympics,” he claimed, defining the spirit of the Olympics, very much as Wang Wenjia had done, as “peace, competition and unity” – in short, a global festival of mutual honour and indifference to one another’s political systems. Those who want to use the Games to push other agendas are, he says, like people who “talk dirty and smash the dishes when they are invited to a party”.

Susan Brownell, an American athlete, anthropologist and author of Beijing’s Games: What the Olympics Mean to China, told The Telegraph: “They are collective redemption for the national suffering of the past century.”

“The Cultural Revolution generation that is now in charge have a sense that they were not well educated,” she says. “They hope to use the Games to shape the next generation, so that they are better prepared to take up their role in the world community.”

Brownell a member of the International Olympic Committee's Selection Committee shared these thoughts on the relationship between the 2008 Olympics and Chinese politics with The Seattle Times’ Daniel Beekman.

“In general, I think the outside world doesn't realize that the 2008 Olympics are being used to press China's government to do things for the Chinese people. Change usually occurs slowly here, but the Games have sped Beijing's political process up. There has been a huge push to clean up the city, for example.

“There is a lot of inertia in Chinese government. A big reason for that is China's enormous population. The country is so big - it takes a lot of effort to accomplish anything. And the nature of Chinese politics contributes to that inertia as well. In Beijing, government consists entirely of guanxi wang ('webs of personal relations'). When you do something, as an official, you must consider how that something will affect everyone connected to you and everyone connected to them - ad infinitum. So political actions are like stones dropped into ponds. They send ripples moving outwards. No one particularly wants to make waves, and so only very slowly do things normally get done.

“Consequently, Chinese leaders have, for decades now, used big events to accelerate change and get things accomplished. This is not just true for the 2008 Olympics - it's been done for years and years. Foreign reporters keep making a big deal of Beijing's Olympics-related politeness and anti-spitting campaigns. But those campaigns are decades old. They were certainly around in the 1980s. I was here right before the United Nations' Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 and at that time Beijing was doing similar things - there were campaigns to improve the politeness of taxi drivers, to curb spitting and to improve public health and hygiene. Just before the 1990 Asian Games, disposable chopsticks were finally adopted citywide in Beijing restaurants. In China, events are often agents for change. It's just that the Olympics are bigger.”

Offering Brownell the benefit of the doubt Beekham asked her if China's leaders are using the 2008 Olympics to get things done, what have been their objectives?

“The government has really pushed forward both environmental protection and Olympic education. In the context of Beijing, Olympic education has meant training China's next generation to be 'international.' Many young Chinese have been trained via Beijing's Olympic volunteer programs.

“But what does 'international' mean? Good question. 'Becoming more international' is a great all-encompassing slogan, but to realize it is a bit more of a problem. If you list what is being emphasized to these college students in Beijing, who account for most of the volunteers, the main thing is 'you need to learn to dare to talk to foreigners.' It's 'don't be afraid of them - go up to them - speak English with them - open your mouth.' The IOC pinpointed Chinese volunteers' English abilities as an area of concern a few months ago. But investigations here have showed that language isn't what's wrong. What's causing trouble is intimidation. Those volunteers observed by the IOC were afraid to open their mouths. In the end, young peoples' language abilities and attitudes are getting a lot of government attention.

“Besides 'internationalism,' the Olympic ideals most emphasized in China with respect to the 2008 Games have been friendship, understanding, unity and peace. Olympic education here has been aimed at two distinct groups - volunteer college students and schoolchildren. The government has invested a lot in the teaching of the Games in Beijing primary and secondary schools. Basically, the idea is to teach international friendship and world peace through the Olympic Games, while also preparing young Chinese people for the world. Here in Beijing, the history of the Olympics is taught in a way that emphasizes first the Games' western origins, then China's slow incorporation into the Olympic movement, and finally China's ascendance to its place as an equal partner in that movement with these 2008 Games. It's not only Olympic history - it's a narrative of China's relationship with the outside world as well.”

Clearly there are two sides to this coin. Those who believe the Chinese are up to no good, never where and the Beijing Games represent nothing more than an opportunity for the global companies to reach the world’s most populated country – politics, moral and ethical values be dammed. Media censorship and restricting email to and from China didn’t help those who believe the Red Menace is alive and well. How hollow where the words of Chinese President Hu Friday who suggested indeed change will come to China , after the Games are over?

On the other hand if respected scholars like Susan Brownell are to be believed the Chinese deserve the benefit of the doubt --- at least until the Games end of August 24, 2008. Again the actions the Chinese government took early this week won’t help Brownell’s case. Brownell has lived and studied in China and is an acknowledged and respected scholar without a political agenda.

Two very interesting sides of a coin that will play themselves out before more than 20,000 journalists and billions of people watching across the world (fragment). Unlike the 1936 Nazi Games the Chinese should be well aware in the era of instant communications (comma) one major miss-step could result in untold damage to Chinese reputation as a respected world power.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The Seattle Times, Bloomberg News, Reuters

Labels: , , ,