crackdown against Tibetan protesters ahead of the Summer Olympics
in Beijing carries with it a brutal echo from the past. Scores
of people, including school children are reported dead and more
repression has been promised. The People's Daily, the official
newspaper of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC), said "[We
must] resolutely crush the 'Tibet independence' forces' conspiracy
and sabotaging activities."
after decades of occupation, the ruthlessness of the crackdown
has shocked much of the world. It happens the week after the US
State Department removed China from its list of the world's worst
human rights offenders.
the concern expressed by world leaders has seemed less for the
people of Tibet than the fate of the Summer Games, with Olympic
cash deemed more precious than Tibetan blood. The Olympics were
supposed to be China's multibillion-dollar, super sweet sixteen.
Britain's Minister for Africa, Asia and the United Nations, Mark
Malloch-Brown, told the BBC, "This is China's coming-out party,
and they should take great care to do nothing that will wreck
[Tibetan] crackdown happens the week after the US State
Department removed China from its list of the world's worst
human rights offenders.
countries hankering after a piece of China's thriving economy
have rushed to put daylight between the crackdown in Tibet and
the Olympics. No surprise, the Bush's White House, underwriting
their war in Iraq on loans from Beijing, headed off any talk that
President Bush would cancel his appearance at the Olympic Games
when spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush believed that the Olympics
"should be about the athletes and not necessarily about politics."
Earlier, the European Union said a "boycott would not be the appropriate
way to address the work for respect of human rights, which means
the ethnic and religious rights of the Tibetans."
the nations of the West have ruled out the idea of boycotting
the games, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Tuesday
that the EU should at least consider boycotting the opening ceremony
if violence continues. Later Kouchner backtracked, saying "We're
not in favor of it. When you're dealing in international relations
with countries as important as China, obviously when you make
economic decisions it's sometimes at the expense of human rights.
That's elementary realism.''
surprise, the Bush's White House, underwriting their war
in Iraq on loans from Beijing, headed off any talk that
President Bush would cancel his appearance at the Olympic
happens next, China's crackdown is not happening in spite of the
Beijing Olympics, but because of them. It is a bold play by China
to set a tone for the remainder of the year. Since its occupation
of the country in 1951, China has suppressed its Buddhist faith
and made Tibetans a persecuted minority in their own country via
the mass migration of millions of Han Chinese. As monks and young
Tibetans took their grievances to the streets over the weekend,
the government made clear it would brook no protest and tolerate
helpful to remember that in many countries, including our own,
pre-Olympic repression is as much of a tradition as lighting the
Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates oversaw the jailing of thousands
of young black men in the infamous Olympic Gang Sweeps. Gates
also sent the LA Swat Team to Israel and West Berlin for special
you're dealing in international relations with countries
as important as China, obviously when you make economic
decisions it's sometimes at the expense of human rights.
That's elementary realism.''
- French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner
1996 Atlanta games were supposed to demonstrate the gains of the
New South, but the New South ended up looking much like the old
one, as public housing was razed to make way for Olympic venues,
homeless people were chased off the streets and perceived trouble-makers
As Wendy Pedersen of the Carnegie Community Action Project recently
recalled in Vancouver, BC, another city poised to crack down on
crime, drugs and homelessness in preparation for the Winter Olympics
in 2010, Atlanta officials "had six ordinances that made all kinds
of things illegal, including lying down. Lots of people were shipped
out, and lots of people were put in jail. [The Olympic Planning
Committee] actually built the city jail. Activists there called
it the first Olympic project completed on time."
followed the Olympic Rings to Greece in 2004. As the radio program
"Democracy Now," reported at the time, authorities in Athens "round[ed]
up homeless people, drug addicts and the mentally ill, requiring
that psychiatric hospitals lock them up." The pre-Olympics "cleanup"
included detaining or deporting refugees and asylum-seekers. Being
the first Olympics after 9/11, police surveillance of immigrant
Muslims and makeshift mosques in Athens greatly increased.
the worst example of Olympic repression - and the most resonant
to the current moment - came in 1968 in Mexico City, where hundreds
of Mexican students and workers occupying the National University
were slaughtered in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas on October
2, 1968, 10 days before the start of the games. Recently declassified
documents paint a picture of a massacre as cold and methodical
as President Luis Echeverría's instructions.
the worst example of Olympic repression came in 1968 in
Mexico City, where hundreds of Mexican students and workers
occupying the National University were slaughtered in the
Plaza de las Tres Culturas on October 2, 1968, 10 days before
the start of the games...
aim was the same as China's: a pre-emptive strike to make sure
that using the Olympic games as a platform for protest would not
be on the itinerary. The irony, of course, is that while Echeverría
succeeded in crushing the protest movement outside the games,
on the inside US athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised
their black-gloved fists in an expression of Black Power, cementing
the 1968 games as a place defined by discontent.
It's a lesson the 2008 athletes might remember. Officials may
try to smother dissent on the streets of Lhasa and elsewhere in
China, but in the games themselves - from the path of the Olympic
torch up Mount Everest to the opulent venues constructed in Beijing
- the risk for protest, and the opportunity, is real.
Dave Zirin is the author of Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain,
Politics and Promise of Sports (Haymarket Books, 2007). He is
also the author of "The Muhammad Ali Handbook" (MQ Publications)
and has also gotten himself a blog site, www.myspace.com/edgeofsports,
which he invites you to visit. His book, "What's My Name Fool?
Sports and Resistance in the United States," is also in stores.
You can receive his column, Edge of Sports, every week by emailing
says: "I love writing this column but can only
continue with this work if people buy the books. We have a lot
of mouths to feeds in this house (and about three of them are
you believe in progressive, iconoclastic sports writing please
pick up a copy of Welcome To The Terrordome. If you believe in
being part of a project to "tear down the Terrordome,"
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Other articles by Dave Zirin:
Chavez Challenges Baseball
The Fall Of Marion Jones, Inc.
Why Michael Vick Is Not A Fascist
When Domes Attack
The Meaning Of The Sports Spectacle
Clown Prince Of Bizarro World
No Scapegoats: The Other Side Of Hip-Hop
(co-written with Jeff Chang)
The Greatest Anti-War Protestor
Pimping Mike Tyson
Pat Tillman's Brother Breaks His Silence
The Passing Of Peter Norman
When Fists Are Frozen
Why Today I Wear My Zidane Jersey
Hey Guys, It's Not A War
Using Soccer To Kick Iran
Why Did Pat Tillman Die?
Why Pat Tillman's Parents Are No Longer Silent