Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Beijing Olympic Dreams - Going Down in a Blaze of Glory?

This morning I read three more articles about San Francisco's hotly-contested decision to allow the 2008 Olympic torch to be toured through The City.

At their most benign, the complaints regard the recent decision by a sub-committee of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors to reject language that would have condemned China for its human rights abuses - particularly in Tibet.

Two out of the three Supervisors on the sub-committee voted against the resolution - preventing it from being considered by the full Board.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom - who supported the sub-committee's decision - stated “If folks want to beat up China, beat up China but don’t beat up the spirit of the Olympics.”

While I agree with the Mayor's words, I don't believe that they encapsulate the question at hand. As the only American city to host the Olympic torch, San Francisco is in a unique position to at least express its concern with the human rights violations of which China is guilty in Tibet and elsewhere as well as with China's contribution to the atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Let me be clear. I do not believe that the city of San Francisco should insist that the Olympic torch not be taken through its streets. I think that the people who have planned to protest against San Francisco's decision to hold a parade featuring the torch would do better to use the increased media attention to protest against the Olympic games themselves.

A balance needs to be struck.

Just as boycotting the games is too extreme a measure - and one that would ultimately punish the athletes who have devoted their entire lives to Olympic dreams more than it would punish the Chinese government - failure to mention the myriad concerns regarding China's human rights record is too extreme in the opposite direction.

We must strike a balance. France is in the process of doing this as the first nation to publicly consider attending the games but boycotting the opening ceremonies.

One of the basic tenets of social media is engagement - and engagement requires give and take. You can't have a conversation with someone if you refuse to acknowledge them them. Similarly, once they're engaged, you need to be able to leverage that engagement to accomplish goals. Otherwise one entity dominates the conversation. What started out as dialog becomes monologue and ideas are no longer exchanged.

This may not always be a terrible thing. Perhaps a one-sided conversation is okay because the other side has nothing to say. When egregious human rights violations are involved, however, an imperative emerges.

Refusing to engage China is a mistake. The Olympics represent a celebration of something that is greater than any one nation or conflict. They acknowledge that it is more honorable to outrun, jump, swim or throw someone than it is to kill them. That having been said, after someone has been engaged, failure to exercise that engagement in order to make a statement that must be made is wasteful and makes the engager indelibly - if tacitly - responsible for the consequences of that failure to act.

By hosting the Olympic torch, we have engaged China. San Francisco should make it clear that it is hosting the Olympic torch out of respect for the hallowed tradition of the Olympic games and the honorable ideals for which it stands. Just as Mayor Newsom said that people should feel free to beat up China but not the Olympics, San Francisco should make it clear to the world that by hosting the torch, it is the Olympics that it supports and not the Chinese government and its actions.


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Don said...


May I suggest a link related to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games?

Our site:

URL: http://www.2008chinaolympics.com
Title: Beijing Olympics

Please let me know if you want a link back.
Many thanks for your reply.

Best Regards,