Stop the Olympic torch trek now. We’re not going to get into a debate over what China is doing in Tibet, or in Darfur, or Myanmar, or its record on human rights. Those issues are best left to the experts. But the political debate over China s hosting the Summer Olympics is rapidly overtaking the sports-themed torch ceremonies around the globe. And that?s where we come in. The Olympic motto Swifter, Higher, Stronger is being applied not to sports but has become the needed attributes of demonstrators who seek to get close enough to disrupt the proceedings of the torch. And instead of shining the spirit of the Olympic spotlight on China s growing political, economic and sporting prowess, the light is shining on none of these qualities. Politics, not sports, is taking center stage now because of this highly charged torch tour and will probably continue to do so at the Summer Games. That’s not what sports is about and certainly not what the Olympics, the world’s biggest sporting show, was meant to be. Don’t think, though, that sports and politics don’t mix; they have been a couple going way back, and especially in the Olympics. The self-glorification effort of Nazi Germany in the 1936 Olympics which was put to shame by black US athlete Jesse Owens winning four gold medals under Hitler s nose.
The two black US runners, Tommy Smith and John Carlos, raising their hands in a black power salute from the podium in 1968. The 11 Israeli athletes killed by Palestinians in Munich 1972. The African boycott in 1976 because of apartheid. The US boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Russia?s tit-for-tat boycott of Los Angeles 1984. So in fact, it is quite rare for the Games to pass off without controversy, the biggest reason being how easy it can be to politicize the Games and the unprecedented coverage the Olympics gets from the media which in turn can highlight all sorts of causes and grievances. Tibet would not be on the front page if the Games were not being organized in China. On their campaign trails, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would not be talking about Tibet and the torch if the issue had not become breaking news. But though the world is watching, is the source of the controversy even interested? Protesters hope to pressure China into addressing its human rights record. But is anyone in China paying attention? As soon as last week?s London protests began, Chinese television cut the signal and the televisions went black. So if China doesn?t care, why should anybody else, including the several world leaders planning not to attend the Aug. 8 opening ceremonies, and growing pressure on others, including President Bush, to do likewise? In the hope that China will change its ways? Will indeed China change if Day No 1 is boycotted? Or, put the other way round, will China be affected once the whole world is watching? That sounds like a cynical bet on China?s ceasing whatever it is doing only when the press corps covering the Olympics in China swells to 25,000. Let?s not spoil the Games even before they begin, but that?s what?s happening. The torch has taken on a life of its own. So far there have been riots in Paris and police clashes in London, and the torch run in San Francisco had to be shortened and rerouted in secret to avoid the embarrassments in Europe. The reaction to the Olympic torch relay for the Beijing Olympic Games is getting worse, not better. The torch is scheduled to travel to 13 other cities before arriving in China on May 4, including Sydney which has large activist communities especially vocal on China?s human rights record, and Delhi, where anger over China s role in Tibet remains high. The Beijing Olympic torch show, it seems, is only just heating up. But the Olympic flame is turning into a firestorm and should be put out. The torch run is nothing more than a PR stunt invented to build interest in the Games. And this year it has gone wrong. So why stubbornly cling to the idea of carrying a flaming stick through the streets when it only serves to ignite confrontation? Under such fiery circumstances, the torch should simply have gone from Olympia, Greece, where it all began, to the host country, and nothing in between. END