The 2008 Olympic Games opened on 8-8-08 in Beijing with the rather disturbing slogan, “One World, One Dream,” especially given the Chinese Communist Party’s collectivist hegemony. The opening ceremonies exploded with enormous spectacle featuring 2,008 drummers (despite the buzzing of numerous police helicopters overhead), but spectacle for what? According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC):
The Games have always brought people together in peace to respect universal moral principles. The upcoming Games will feature athletes from all over the world and help promote the Olympic spirit.
Apparently, the IOC does not recall the recurring political boycotts, fraudulent doping of athletes, politics, bribery of officials (see here and here), and terrorism. Notwithstanding the enormous sacrifices, courage, skills, and achievements of the individual athletes involved, the quadrennial, modern, international, multi-sport event (as with world soccer) has long been an exercise in rabid nationalism in which the world’s nation states (200 participating this year) vie to determine which is the “superior.” (My own view is that for the games to be at all meaningful, any private athlete and team from anywhere should be allowed to enter the trials with the then best athletes meeting at the final games.)
In China’s case, the one-party state has spent $40 billion in construction costs alone in a society only recently rising out of abject poverty to the extent of market-based reforms. (Also see our new book that examines the changes in China and other countries, Making Poor Nations Rich.) Meanwhile, the Chinese government continues its repression over a population of 1.3 billion people, especially involving freedom of religion (including Tibet and the rapid spread of Christianity) and speech, and travel. And, the IOC hypocritically claims to prohibit political acts or demonstrations in Olympic venues, while championing blatant nationalism throughout.
This year China is aiming to have the strongest team, compared to its tally in Athens 2004 when China came in second to the U.S. in gold medals and third overall. The difference this year may result in part to China being the “home team” but more likely due to its enormous push to fund a gigantic government-sports complex, in the tradition of socialist regimes like East Germany and Russia.
As for the heavy smog in Beijing, the government has unsuccessful tried to clear the air in the months leading up to the games by shutting down all factories and construction projects (except the game-related facilities of course), and cars can only be driven on alternate days. Interestingly enough, to avoid ingesting too much of the smog, the champion Ethiopian runner Haile Gabrselassie canceled out of the 26-mile marathon, opting instead for the much shorter 10,000-meter (6.2-mile) run. (Incidentally, see here, here, here, and here for solutions to air pollution based on the common law and property rights, instead of the folly of command-and-control measures used in China, the U.S., and Europe.)
Meanwhile, according to AP:
. . . protests that had begun in Asia also were taking place in London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and the United States.
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The Beijing Games have become a focus on issues ranging from its human rights record and heavy-handed rule in Tibet, to its abortion policies and repression of the Falun Gong spiritual movement.
Protests involving thousands have occurred in San Francisco, Ankara (Turkey), Kathmandu (Nepal), Dharmsala (India), and elsewhere. In Paris:
A man and a woman climbed the front of a five-story building, unfurled a large banner picturing the Olympics rings as handcuffs and attached it to the top floor balcony.
In China, authorities were on their highest alert, guarding against anyone who might try to take the shine off the Opening Ceremonies watched worldwide.
Beijing’s landmark Tiananmen Square was sealed off. Foreigners who have protested in recent days were deported, and Chinese who did the same were in custody.
In response to complaints to the IOC, official protest zones have been set up by the Chinese government, but many miles from the game sites. And:
It remains unclear how much freedom any would-be demonstrators will actually have, as Chinese law requires anyone who wants to stage a protest to first receive a government permit. Few Chinese citizens go through the process, and China has promised to deal harshly with illegal demonstrations.
Beijing Games officials said they didn’t know if demonstrators in the designated protest areas would also need permits and referred questions to the city government and police. Neither responded to requests for comment.
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But some analysts are cautiously optimistic. Xu Zhiyong, a law lecturer at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, said plans to allow even limited protests could be a promising sign.
“In the past, it’s been very difficult to obtain any permits for demonstrations. Basically very few were approved,” Mr. Xu said. “Going forward, however, it may change.”