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Games of life and death

By: SKIP BANDELE

features@algarveresident.com

Skip Bandele moved to the Algarve 10 years ago and has been with The Resident since 2003. His writing reflects views and opinions formed while living in Africa, Germany and England as well as Portugal.

THE OLYMPIC torch was lit in Athens just under two weeks ago and began its 137,000km journey to Beijing where it will arrive around the time you are reading this.

Ironically, its bearers will pass through Tibet and adjoining provinces on the way to Tiananmen Square in the Chinese capital, in what many consider to be an affront to the very values the Olympian spirit purports to represent.

The current Chinese ruling elite would have the world believe that much has changed in the globe’s most populous country since the death of Mao Zedong, in 1976.

Yet the giant portrait of the revered Chairman still looks out over the city centre location, which witnessed the infamous massacre of students and protesters 19 years ago.

Today, the Chinese army remains overtly in action, repressing dissidents in Tibet by force of arms, while its brother organisation, the secret police, continues to terrorise the majority of the estimated 1.4 billion ordinary Chinese citizens.

From 1949 onwards, the questioning of Communist Party rule, briefly tolerated when the Great Helmsman proclaimed that “a thousand flowers should bloom”, combined with centrally instigated reform programmes such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution during the 1950s and 60s, have cost in excess of 70 million lives.

Mao, the revolutionary bringing a new creed to his nation, had turned out to be no more than a throwback to an earlier age when the emperors of the ‘Forbidden City’ held the ‘Mandate of Heaven’ and execution threatened anybody who dared to oppose their decrees.

Table tennis diplomacy inspired by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger during the 1970s helped erect a public façade of acceptability but no real change was achieved as the formation of the Gang of Four provoked renewed all-encompassing purges.

Executions

More recently, Canadian human rights lawyer Clive Ansley has amassed evidence that under Mao’s heirs, state secret police executions of political activists are approaching the 20,000 mark.

Following the traditional single bullet in the nape of the neck, the dead bodies provide freshly harvested organs, which are then sold to wealthy foreigners.

Heart, liver or kidney transplant patients from the west pay 50,000 euros or more for each ‘spare part’, thus swelling party coffers.

The government insists that this conveyor belt system of summary ‘justice’ is only meted out to ‘criminals’, yet there are no courtroom hearings or any appeals, other than a last despairing unheard cry for mercy.

The Long March, which began during the 1930s, is still being conducted well into the 21st Century.

Against this background, then, and while the latest atrocities are still being committed against the subjects of 1989 Nobel Peace Prize-decorated advocate of non-violence the Dalai Lama, the international community has decided to hold the Olympic Games this August in the ancient ‘Middle Kingdom’.

The imminent event contradicts everything Olympianism, the Olympic Movement, its charter and ideals it stands for.

Namely, to promote fair play, work against violence and intolerance, support diversity and equality, advance environmental protection and contribute to culture of which sport is a part of.

Although the International Olympic Committee tries to avoid getting embroiled in politics, it has an obligation to learn from the past and to deal in practical realities.

Certainly no-one will want to see a repeat of the Nazi propaganda spectacle, which was presented to the world in Berlin in 1936, but a similar scenario implying tacit approval of the Chinese regime beckons.

One option open to nations, albeit at the heartbreaking cost to the individual athlete who has invested years of training and sacrifice, is the boycott.

Post World War Two examples of such drastic action are numerous.

In 1956, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland did not send their teams to Melbourne in protest of the Soviet repression of the Hungarian uprising while Cambodia, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon stayed at home due to the Suez Crisis.

The Munich and Montreal Games in 1972 and 1976 saw a large number of African countries refusing to compete as a result of South Africa and Rhodesia’s Apartheid policies, as well as New Zealand’s rugby tours of those two pariah states.

During the early 1980s, the Cold War opponents boycotted each other’s Olympics, 65 nations stating their opposition to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan by not travelling to Moscow.

Social conscience

Four years later, the Soviet Union and 14 of its Eastern Block partners countered by staging their own Friendship Games, rather than turning up in Los Angeles.

No doubt there are many arguments both in support and against such action.

I personally do not believe that sport and politics should be mixed.

At the same time, each competitor has a political and social conscience, and is capable of making a stand according to his or her personal principles.

Furthermore, no-one can be so naïve as not to recognise the wider global implications, which necessarily link politics and major sporting events in today’s world.

Whereas holding games in Iraq or Israel would never be considered at the present time, the prospect of China no doubt presented much more powerful arguments in terms of Realpolitik.

The People’s Republic is a major player today and will evolve into the dominant economic and thus political nation in the near future.

As such, she cannot be ignored but must be embraced under the principle that isolation only increases the implied danger, while any form of contact is better than none.

Still, I think it is wrong for politicians to pay lip service to the condemnation of gross human rights abuse, torture and state sanctioned mass murder, while simultaneously signing export agreements and allowing their Olympic athletes to be showcased by the perpetrators.

In the face of this, the Games will probably still go ahead accompanied by pomp and circumstance.

I can only hope that at least a shred of respect and dignity, if only in the most superficial of senses, can be retained.

I do not wish to see rhythmic gymnastics being performed on the vast and bloodied expanses of Tiananmen Square.

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