Former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq no doubt summed up many people’s feelings after a protester tried to grab the Olympic flame from her yesterday. She valued the Olympic ideals but also condemned the “despicable” nature of the Chinese government’s role in Tibet. The Chinese Olympic organisers may well have lost control of the script for the flame, but they are still in charge of China and will get on with murdering Buddhist monks in Tibet and killing and jailing dissidents at home.
Yesterday’s torch run through London offered a ludicrous spectacle. Constantly surrounded by Chinese minders and British police, it was difficult to even see the flame. The whole exercise cost council taxpayers up to £500,000 plus an additional £2 million for the police “ring of steel”. Free speech also paid a price as police forced demonstrators to take down wholly inoffensive but political placards and made protesters take off their pro-Tibet T-shirts. You got a taste of what the 2012 Games in London will look like.
To suppose that politics and the Olympics don’t go together would be to ignore the history of the modern Games. The idea of a torch relay itself was initiated by the Nazis. The 1936 Berlin games, for example, were a showpiece for Hitler’s regime, even while being undermined by black US runner Jesse Owen’s amazing performance. In the Cold War, the United States, the Soviet Union and former East Germany, also used the Games for political ends. Forty years ago, at the Mexico City 1968 Olympics, American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave the Black Power salute on the podium in protest against US racism. Only days earlier, the Mexican authorities had massacred hundreds of students staging a protest.
In today’s world, corporate sponsorship for companies like Coca Cola – who are sponsoring the torch - and big business interests dovetail with the propaganda of authoritarian regimes to make the Games into their plaything. The cost of the London Games has spiralled up from an original £2.4 billion in 2006 to a current budget of £9 billion plus a £2 billion contingency fund. For what? So that land values in Stratford where the Olympics are being held can rocket, or that surveillance on spectators can reach Orwellian heights? Severfield-Rowen, the construction company for the London Olympics, has reported record profits and a doubling of its order book. MoneyWeek writes that “security companies should see good business from the Olympics as well…. These are likely to be the most watched-over games in history”. No wonder that three quarters of the British population and 60% of Londoners don’t think the Olympics will benefit them!
New Labour’s hypocrisy when it comes to human rights in China is breathtaking. For them, business comes first. In any case, the Brown government is hardly a paragon of democracy. The UK’s record on human rights, rendition and its role in Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terror is, perhaps a bit more subtle than the Chinese kleptocracy, but just as authoritarian.
The Beijing Olympics should indeed be boycotted. In fact, the modern Olympics should be abandoned altogether! Why not simply call off the London Olympics? Even half the money could provide affordable housing in a city where only the rich can pay for somewhere decent to live as well as good, free sporting facilities. The ideals of friendly, international sporting competitions could then be pursued in an entirely new context.