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Sunday, 6 April 2008

A torch for Tibet

When it comes to the issue of Tibet and the 2008 Chinese Olympic Games, politicians and athletes alike argue that politics shouldn't be brought into it. But the inescapable fact is that politics are a part of it. The irony is that a successful Olympic Games in China will be useful politically for the Chinese authorities, and they are well aware of this.

I do have sympathy with athletes who say they've been training for these games for many years and this could be the only chance they get, and I agree with the point made by Steve Redgrave in the Telegraph recently that boycotts should be fair and even-handed, which they often are not.

Sporting events are an easy and relatively painless way for hypocritical governments to pretend that they care about the plights of others. In 1980, for example, the US government led a boycott of the Moscow Olympics because of the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan, but continued to sell grain to the Soviets.

Why is it that Western leaders, who when it suits can't wait to denounce foreign regimes or wage illegal wars on sovereign states, are being so lacklustre in their treatment of the Chinese authorities?

Despite French President Nicolas Sarkozy's determination to try to hold the Chinese government to account, Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown justifies his own determination to attend the opening ceremony in Beijing because "the Dalai Lama himself has said that he does not want to see a boycott of the Olympics". Well, if I remember correctly, the Dalai Lama also wants to see his people free of Chinese oppression, so what is Brown's answer to that? Perhaps he should listen to Joanna Lumley and support her call to the International Olympic Committee (IOC):

The Olympic Charter defines the Olympic ideals as: "respect for universal ethical fundamental principles". Despite being the host for the 2008 Games, the Chinese government has shown clear contempt for such values in its recent brutal crackdown in Tibet. The IOC must therefore break its silence on China's human rights record and defend its own Charter's values. The best place to start would be by insisting that the Olympic Torch is not allowed into Tibet. China's parading the torch triumphantly in front of a cowed and repressed Tibetan population would be an abhorrent sight for anyone concerned with true Olympic values.

I support the Dalai Lama’s call for a Tibet free from Chinese oppression, but have to ask whether he would have the same enthusiasm for the liberation of the Tibetan people from the age-old tyranny of the Buddhist establishment he heads.

You can read more about the Free Tibet Campaign here.

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