Sports & Politics

There Were Other Chances to Protest Human Rights Abuses in China

Opinion | Marlies Dachler | May 2008

A recent study conducted by the ORF revealed that 75,81% of Austrian voters support boycotting the Olympic Games in Beijing this year. For competitive athletes this is very disappointing. Among other things, it reveals how little the majority of people understand about one of the fundamental principles of the Olympic Games, that of sportsmanship that transcends politics.

From a political perspective, the People’s Republic of China has certainly shot itself in the foot by applying to host of the 2008 Olympic Games. Moreover, by choosing the motto "One World - One Dream," it has called attention to an ideal it seems ill equipped to fulfill. But the international community has also – perhaps cynically – used the occasion of Beijing hosting the games to expose the Tibetan issue and Human Rights violations to the media.

From the perspective of athletes who, depending on the discipline, train between two and four times a day over a decade or more to succeed in the world’s greatest sporting event, boycotting the games over political disputes is heartbreaking, and causes their world to collapse like a house of cards.

What’s worse, governments around the world are trying to punish the Chinese by boycotting the opening ceremony, or even the games altogether, without stopping to think that they’re actually punishing their athletes.

Austria’s undersecretary for sport, Reinhold Lopatka, for example, recently expressed his sympathy for the protests and the Tibetan cause, and that China had to act because, according to the Olympic Charter, sports can be considered a human right.

The Charter, while arguably idealistic, however, never mentions issues concerning the jurisdiction of the sovereign host country. It is solely concerned with providing the basis for the hosting of a sports event, and the values connected to it. As an international non-profit, non-governmental organization, the International Olympic Committee is not a political actor, and thus, according to Art. 2 Par. 10, it is the IOC’s mission to oppose any political or commercial abuse of sports or athletes.

Thus, if countries decide to voice their opposition to China’s policies, they should do it independently of the Olympic Games. There have, in fact, been many opportunities in the past and there was no need to wait for the Olympic Games.

We should think of the Olympic Games as the ancient Greeks did, as an alternative to wars, as an opportunity for friendly competition, battles and hostilities, to come together to celebrate sportsmanship and peace, in honor of their gods.

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