Friday, April 11, 2008

China's Olympic Embarrassment

The Olympic torch is continuing its troubled progress around the world. After pro-Tibet and other protestors disrupted it in London, Paris and San Francisco, it's now reached Buenos Aires.

So far the torch has had to be protected by a horde of Chinese security men in tracksuits, with lots of local police next to them - hardly the sort of image the Olympic movement wants to be associated with. And despite public insistence that the show will go on as planned, there's no doubt that privately the Chinese leaders will be deeply embarrassed by how the torch relay has gone. With one world leader after another announcing they won't be attending the opening ceremony, that embarrassment will only be felt more deeply as the Games draw near.

The Olympics were supposed to be China's big global coming out party. With impressive, sparkly new venues, and numerous gold medal winning performances from its athletes, China was going to show us what an advanced and powerful society it's become. This will probably still happen. But the protestors have already succeeded in making sure Tibet and other human rights issues will hang around the Games, filling column inches and broadcast time, and generally spoiling China's party.

Don't feel too sorry for the Chinese government though. When bidding for the Games, they told the IOC the process of holding an Olympics would help open the country up, and help it improve its human rights record. That hasn't happened, so the protests are fair enough. They might even just change something, although don't count on it. The Chinese may be embarrassed, but as they're proving in insisting the torch relay continues, they're also as stubborn as hell.

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