Olympic Hurdles: Gebrselassie Out, Tibet Rages

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 3/19/2008 02:05:00 AM
I found the graphic above while using the search term "Beijing Olympics," and it pretty much sums up the grievances of many activists with China hosting the event. What are you going to do Wen your Olympic dreams are turning into nightmares? Hu will you turn to when world opinion sours on your Games? Legendary Ethiopian distance runner Haile Gebrselassie has already decided not to participate, calling the air in Beijing bad enough for "suicide." Meanwhile, the Tibet situation is worsening. To most of the rest of the world, the 14th Dalai Lama is known as a Nobel Peace Prize winner. To the Chinese leadership, however:
"The Dalai is a wolf in monk's robes, a devil with a human face but the heart of a beast," [secretary of the Party Committee of Tibet Autonomous Region] Zhang Qingli was quoted as telling officials. "We are now engaged in a fierce blood-and-fire battle with the Dalai clique, a life-and-death battle between us and the enemy."
Wen Jiabao certainly has his work cut out for him, and this sort of hyperbole doesn't seem to help. The Olympics may turn out to be a pretty large PR fiasco, if it isn't one already. If Beijing doesn't get the air pollution problem mitigated soon and Tibet gets further out of hand, who knows how much worse things can get for the Beijing Olympics? From Bloomberg:

China, facing criticism over pollution and human rights, is experiencing "problems'' in the run-up to its first Olympics, Premier Wen Jiabao said.

The International Olympic Committee yesterday said it may reschedule endurance events affected by Beijing's smog, while China's actions in Sudan and Tibet have pushed human rights groups to seek a boycott of the Aug. 8-24 games.

Concern before recent Summer Olympics, including Athens in 2004 and Atlanta in 1996, centered on venues being ready or too spread out. Criticisms directed at Beijing organizers stem more from government policies, prompting Wen to accuse detractors of mixing politics and sports.

"We are still a developing country and it's inevitable that we may have some problems when organizing the Olympics,'' Wen told reporters in Beijing today. "We need to respect the principals of the Olympics and the Olympic charter, that is, we shouldn't politicize the Olympic Games.''

Wen said Tibetan protesters were trying to "undermine'' the Olympics, while United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked China to exercise restraint in Tibet, adding that events there shouldn't be linked to the staging of the Olympics. Even the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, who accuses China of engaging in cultural genocide in the Himalayan region, doesn't want an Olympic boycott.

Ma Ying-jeou, the leading candidate for Taiwan's March 22 presidential election, said he may lead a boycott over the crackdown in Tibet. "If I'm elected president, I won't rule out stopping sending teams to the Beijing Olympics,'' Ma, China's preferred choice as president, said in an e-mailed statement today.

At least 80 people have died in Tibet during the biggest protests against Chinese rule in 20 years, according to Tibet's government-in-exile. China, which invaded the Himalayan territory in 1951, refuted March 16 the Dalai Lama's assertion that a "cultural genocide'' is taking place.

Other politicians, including European Union ministers, have rejected the idea of a boycott, feeling it "would not be the way to work for the respect for human rights,'' Christiane Hohmann, a European Commission spokeswoman, said yesterday.

U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Darryl Siebel told the Associated Press a boycott would be "one of the worst ideas ever conceived. Any boycotts won't win the hearts of the people,'' Wang Wei, the top official at the Beijing Olympic Games Organizing Committee, said in an interview today. "The Olympics is for the world and it's especially for the young people…''

Meantime, China's pollution has raised concern among athletes and International Olympic Committee officials. Arne Ljungqvist, chairman of the IOC's medical commission, said yesterday "some events will not be conducted under optimal conditions'' and the committee is drawing up contingency plans for endurance events.

Beijing organizers have yet to receive notice of such plans, Liu Wenbin, deputy director of the sports department, said in a telephone interview today. "Competition schedules aren't set by the IOC alone,'' Liu said. Any changes "will be a joint decision by the IOC and the international sports federations.''

Chinese promises to clear the air in time for the Olympics, including a $17 billion clean-up, haven't convinced all athletes, with world record holder Haile Gebrselassie last week pulling out of the marathon because of health fears. "It's suicide,'' Gebrselassie, an asthmatic, said in an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais published today.

Wen said allegations China is using the Olympics as an excuse to silence dissenters were "totally unfounded.'' China said last week it broke up a Muslim separatist group that was planning an attack at the Olympics.

"To host an Olympics is a dream shared by people of many generations in this country,'' Wen added. "I also hope that by hosting the Olympics we will be able to further friendships and cooperation with people from all over the world.''