Normally, I’m not one to care too much about the Olympics or the torch relay until the Opening Ceremonies end and the Games begin. But normally – in my lifetime at least – the host country hasn’t been under as much public and international scrutiny as China is this time around, which has definitely peaked my interest in the Olympics earlier than ever. The last vivid image I have of widespread protests being a dominant theme at a worldwide sporting event was at the 2002 World Cup, hosted by South Korea and Japan, when people locked themselves in cages to protest the fact that a traditional South Korean diet includes dog meat. That time I thought the protestors were being ridiculous. Sorry PETA. This time they’re right.
If hosting the Olympic Games does anything for a country, it is that each and every aspect of the host nation’s character is magnified. The hope is that the Games cast a positive, peaceful light on the hosts, allowing the country to promote itself as up-and-coming or, as in the case of China in 2008, ready to step into the big-time as a major global player, politically and economically. Our friends from the East missed Olympic Hosting 101 big time.
Seriously, talk about blowing it. While China may have plenty going for it, the negativity surrounding their staunch handling of Chinese-ruled Tibet has captured worldwide headlines, forcing all the positive aspects of the nation to the back burner. Since this issue has drawn response from nearly every country and human rights group around the world, it looks like the only thing the international community will take from China is the nation’s unwillingness to cooperate with the rest of the world.
This perception is a huge blow for a country thought to be on the cusps of joining the ranks of the world’s elite. The build-up to the Olympics has been covered immensely from media outlets around the world, meaning there is precious little time for the Chinese to reverse course and change negative attitudes. Yet, the Chinese do still have some of the cards in that, with the Aug. 8 date of the Opening Ceremonies fast approaching, any type of progress will be viewed as a huge accomplishment, and may help dissuade the prevailing negativity. This progress can be as simple as a meeting between Chinese leadership and the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader – talks that China has repeatedly refused despite pressure from leading countries such as France and Germany, along with the United States.
International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge has hinted that he may choose to end the remainder of the torch relay and present it again at the Opening Ceremonies. This statement by the strongest Olympic voice should be a warning to China. If the rest of the torch ceremony is scrapped and the world is not exposed to the Olympic torch until the beginning of the Games, the Chinese will have lost all chance to at least partially remove the ugly cloud that appears headed to Beijing. Many nations would lose out on being able to partake in their part of the torch relay, and the Chinese will look like the big bullies that the world is trying to get them to stop acting like.
This conflict needs to start on the path toward resolution, but that first step has to come from China. Nearly everyone in the world wants the Chinese to take the correct course of action and the nation has an opportunity to begin the process. All it takes is some dialogue. China, I love the Olympics with all my heart. Please don’t ruin the Games for me.