Most of the best winter athletes in the world are arriving in Beijing this week to pursue glory and gold medals at the Winter Olympics, which opens Thursday. Injuries might keep a few stars away, COVID has already hit one American and the National Hockey League, having trouble keeping its teams playing, has opted out.
We can expect to hear plenty of palaver about the Olympic Ideal from our NBC pontificators – commentating from Connecticut since travel to China was deemed a health risk. Its Today show hosts have been hyping what is usually a ratings boost for months.
Even worse was a recent program produced by Nexstar Media, the corporate owner of the NBC affiliates in Oklahoma City and Wichita Falls and many other media outlets nationwide.
Documentary? Travelogue? Chinese propaganda? Destination China, hosted by veteran TV journalist Kaity Tong, spent 30 minutes extolling the historical, cultural, architectural and natural wonders of China. And it did end with a pitch toward tourism.
The closest the program got to the modern world was mentioning “Panda Diplomacy,” and even then, only Richard Nixon was identified in the black-and-white photo that included the ruthless Mao Zedong.
NBC has not been so blatantly puff yet, but, the emphasis on athletic excellence, heartwarming stories of those who overcame personal obstacles, heartbreaking failures and the emergence of new stars will excite, entertain and delight….
…And serve, too, to whitewash atrocious human rights violations in China, where repression is state policy.
On Dec. 22, Zumretay Arkin, program and advocacy manager for the World Uyghur Congress; Chemi Lhamo, Steering Committee member of the International Tibet Network, and
Frances Hui, Founding Director of We The Hongkongers, issued a joint letter urging world athletes to skip these “Genocide Games.”
“Mass imprisonment and surveillance, torture, children forcibly separated from their parents, sexual abuse and systematic rape, LGBT repression, enforced disappearances, forced labor, fake democracy, patriotic education – these are all horrific realities that our people suffer on a daily basis at the hands of the Chinese brutal regime,” the letter reports.
Reinforcing their claims, The Hill noted that same day, “The U.S. and other countries have imposed sanctions on Chinese officials and entities for what it says is a campaign of genocide being carried out by Beijing against the Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang province. The U.S. and allies have also imposed sanctions on Chinese officials and entities for restricting democratic freedoms in Hong Kong.”
The boycott advocates elaborate, “Millions of Uyghurs are locked away in concentration camps suffering torture, rape, forced sterilization and even death.
“Tibetan children, as young as four-years-old, are being removed from their parents and sent into colonial boarding schools, forced into political reeducation classes designed to strip them of their Tibetan identity.
“And in Hong Kong, freedom and democratic rights have been turned to dust as people young and old are imprisoned for simply pressing to uphold freedoms.
“We, and our families, have had to leave our homeland, not by choice, but because there were no alternatives.”
The Olympic Creed opens, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part….”
Chinese political exiles maintain that not taking part is even more important: “Surely human life is worth more than medals? We urge you to choose the right side and stand against genocide.”
The chance to stand on an Olympics podium appears to be stronger. Thus far, only the diplomatic representatives of a few countries, “USA, USA, USA” included, have announced a boycott. And, French President Emmanuel Macron called these actions “insignificant and symbolic.”
En fait, monsieur, symbolic gestures can prove quite effective in directing a fickle public’s attention past immediate diversions.
On this season’s NBA opening night, Boston Celtic center Enes Kanter created an international stir by wearing customized “Free Tibet” basketball shoes. Yahoo Sports later reported that Kanter said prior to the game, “two gentlemen from the NBA begged me to take the shoes off.”
As reported by NBC, “Kanter posted a video to social media earlier in the day in which he labeled Chinese President Xi Jinping a ‘brutal dictator’ and voiced support for Tibet’s independence.
“The comments drew swift reaction from Beijing and threatened a fresh backlash against the league, which is still reeling from its last political controversy in China, a lucrative market where it has millions of fans.
“Tencent, which as the NBA’s digital streaming partner in China attracts half a billion viewers a season, pulled the broadcast of the Celtics’ game against the New York Knicks. The team’s upcoming games are also no longer listed as available to stream in its broadcast schedule, and searches for Kanter’s name appeared to have been blocked on China’s Twitter-like social media platform Weibo.”
The Weibo page administrator wrote, “Any behavior that undermines the harmony of the nation and the dignity of the motherland, we resolutely resist!.”
That sentiment was reinforced Jan. 18, when Yang Shu, deputy director of international relations for the Beijing organizing committee proclaimed: “Any expression that is in line with the Olympic spirit I’m sure will be protected. Any behavior or speech that is against the Olympic spirit, especially against the Chinese laws and regulations, are also subject to certain punishment.”
Reporting on the story from Taipei, The Guardian’s Helen Davidson added, “Acts of protest at the Games are generally against the rules set by the International Olympic Committee, which also warned athletes not to protest at the Tokyo summer Games, or face potential punishment.
“However, there are mounting concerns over the increasing intolerance of protest, dissent or criticism in or against China. Numerous human rights activists and lawyers have been arrested and jailed, and last year the Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, disappeared from public view for several weeks after she publicly accused a former senior official of sexual assault, sparking an international campaign over her wellbeing.”
Ai Weiwei, the exiled Chinese architect whose Bird’s Nest Stadium was built for the 2008 Summer Games and which will serve again for the opening ceremonies, told Stephen Wade of the Associated Press that the promised loosening of restrictions which his design sought to embody never emerged.
Ai maintains that “the 2022 Olympics will further testify to the effectiveness of authoritarianism in China and the frustration of the West’s democratic regimes.”
Small wonder that Agence France-Presse reported the concerns of Amnesty International on Jan. 19 “that the international community must not allow China to use the Winter Olympics in Beijing as a “sportswashing opportunity” and must avoid being “complicit in a propaganda exercise….
“Amnesty’s China researcher, Alkan Akad, said: ‘The Beijing Winter Olympics must not be allowed to pass as a mere sportswashing opportunity for the Chinese authorities, and the international community must not become complicit in a propaganda exercise.’”
(Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party. Longer versions of his columns can be found at scdpok.us or facebook.com/SCDPOK/.)