Admittedly, I watch it, and I enjoy it. For these two summer weeks, I avoid the lure of sun to sit on my couch and watch as nearly naked people perform curious acts on TV. I was glued to the screen when Michael Phelps won his eight olympic medals and Usian Bolt broke the records in the 100 and 200 meter sprints. I was watching when the chinese team beat their German counterparts in basketball, when the German teams dropped out of their tournaments in beach volleyball, gymnastics, rowing and table tennis. I shared the happiness when Hinrich Romeike had this disbelieving smile after winning his two gold medals in the Equestrian competition, Fabian Hambüchen looked rather sad though even he won a bronze medal and I am happy that Germany still ranks higher than Jamaica 😉
Across the two-plus weeks of the Beijing Olympics, German TV stations will have broadcast thousands of hours of live coverage, documentaries and commentary and I will have spent countless hours watching. By that one means that I was invited to ogle an ongoing parade of muscled and lithe and rippling and occasionally perplexing bodies performing more or less aesthetic exercices (this comes after two events this summer, the European soccer championship and the Tour de France…).
Since the very first olympics of modern history in 1896, the olympic movement has always involved a political dimension. So it was when the olympic games were awarded to in Berlin in 1936, to Moscow in 1980, and now to Beijing. In 2001, the olympic bid was awarded to China with the promise that the olympic games in Beijing would contribute improving freedom to the chinese population. Now, we witness Chinese authorities exert a strong regime on political activists and putting restraints on media coverage. China’s President Hu Jintao warns journalists that politicizing the Olympics runs counter to the Olympics’ spirit: „It is inevitable that people hold divergent views on issues, but politicising the Olympics would not address those issues,“ (via) and upholds a repressive policy on journalists as you can watch in this ITV News report (via). IOC’s president Jaques Rogge even refused to apologize when admitting that freedom of the press is only guaranteed within chinese law such that some internet sites remain blocked: „We are not running the internet in China„, Rogge said. No wonder that the leading official of the Beijing organizing committee is not reluctant to criticize western media for their coverage of the olympics and has yet to approve political protests.
So, was Beijing 2008 a mistake? Will China 2008 add another dark chapter to the history of the olympic movement as did Berlin in 1936? In spite of China’s and the IOC’s attempts at denying the political dimension of the olympics and the phony manner the IOC is handling the issue of suppressing the freedom of expression in media coverage alltogether, which makes the IOC a really weak institution, I hope that the olympic games will contribute to an opening and democratization of chinese society in the years (probably rather decades) to come. China can take an enormous pride in their enormous achievement in hosting the olympics, in their athletic achievements and being at the core of international attention. Yet, It cannot be ignored that Amnesty International has a critical debate on the human rights legacy of the Beijing Olympics, and western nations must confront China with clear expectations: freedom of expression, significant and lasting improvements in human rights.
Why not Olympics for kids?
I find it a heartbreaking rather than joyful experience to see teenage olympians (e.g. in gymnastics) bend their young bodies. [see The Ledger, via Rachel’s Tavern] Why can we not have a special olympic competition for athletes younger than 18, combined with a tough control system demanding strong medicinical evidence that participants in the regular olympic competition are at least 18 years old? Having established a seperate olympic competition for kids, one could compare their athletic achievements (how can one compare the results of a 12 year old with those of a twenty, thirty or forty year old?!). Moreover, we could foster the young talents‘ athletic development, better ensure they go to school and monitor their training programs making sure they are appropriate for their age. [Update: According to Spreeblick blogger Stryde has revealed that one Chinese gymnast named He Kexin is too young to participate in the Olympic games with only 14 years of age. Gymnasts have to be 16 during the Olympic year to be eligible for the games. Spiegel Online (German) has taken up the story, as well.]