There’s a time and a place for everything, President Bush says, and this summer is not the time, the Olympic Games not the place. As unpopular as it may be to say it, he’s absolutely right.
In the face of mounting pressure to stage some sort of half-cocked protest of China’s human rights record and its oppression of Tibet, the president would have none of it this past week: “I don’t view the Olympics as a political event,” he said. “I view it as a sporting event.”
You listening, Nancy Pelosi? It’s a sporting event. And despite some profound political statements made in games gone by, the Olympics should not be viewed as a quadrennial opportunity for global political grandstanding.
Sure, we all remember the 1968 games, when Tommie Smith and John Carlos used a single-fisted salute to call attention to the civil rights movement in America, and the horror of Munich in 1972 will remain a blood-soaked memory for as long as the games are played. We also boycotted the Moscow games during the Cold War in 1980, and we watched the Soviets retaliate in 1984. We could even go as far back as Berlin in 1936, when Jesse Owens’ four gold medals countered Hitler’s display of military might and annihilated the dictator’s theory of Aryan supremacy.
And none of it means a thing when we head to Beijing.
Under President Bush, the United States has pursued a foreign policy that is centered largely on ridding the world of tyranny and oppression and spreading democracy, an admirable goal regardless of one’s political ideology. And while the effectiveness of that campaign will be debated for generations to come, it’s difficult to find fault in the effort. In keeping with the framework of that policy, then, it would be reasonable to expect the president to support the Tibetans who continue to suffer harsh treatment at the hands of the Chinese. Likewise, it would not be inconsistent for the United States to work toward ending the genocide in Darfur, in part by pressuring China to use its economic influence in Africa.
Proponents of a symbolic protest in Beijing, however, don’t seem to realize that intense negotiations of this type are much better conducted at conference tables in embassies rather than in discus rings or long-jump pits.
After 9/11, the sports world took a few days to collectively mourn the loss of life and to reevaluate its priorities. After that short grieving period, it was almost unanimously agreed upon that the games must go on, and that people should be given an opportunity to lose themselves in sporting competition, thereby escaping the death and destruction for a few hours. It might be helpful if someone would remind Ms. Pelosi of that sentiment, along with Hillary Clinton and others who are pressing the president to bypass the opening ceremonies of the Games in August.
Day in and day out, enemies around the globe are tearing at one another’s throats, each trying to advance an agenda that perhaps onlythey fully understand. Is it too much to ask for a two-week break from the insanity and chaos that surrounds us, and to put it all aside while we run a few races and play a few games? Gathering together for a relay race in Beijing doesn’t mean we endorse the international policies of the Chinese, Speaker Pelosi, and skipping some of the festivities certainly won’t do anything to change them. Leave the games alone.