Two Takes on the Olympic Debate

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Below are excerpts from two interesting commentaries on the Beijing Olympics. First, from our sister publication Sports Illustrated, is a piece by S.L. Price about how China is handling domestic critics ahead of the Games, and the responsibility of the IOC:

Maybe each nation chose on its own to truckle. Or perhaps there’s been a truckle-down effect from the IOC: Since 2002 it has formally assessed the progress of Beijing’s preparations without once assessing the “enhancing” of human rights in China. Has the IOC gone beyond enabling? If Chinese dissidents and journalists keep going to jail, “and the International Olympic Committee is keeping their mouth shut and looking the other way? They are the ones responsible,” says T. Kumar of Amnesty International USA. “Both are on trial. Not only China: The IOC’s credibility is on the line.”

That’s why Rogge must speak out. These Olympics are massively popular in China, and its leaders fear any loss of face. All he needs to do is say two sentences in public: This is not acceptable. Live up to your pledge. With that, the IOC stops legitimizing a nightmare. With that, the shame is China’s alone.

The second, from Victor Mallet of the Financial Times, argues that China should be more willing to debate the issues that are being raised ahead of the Games:

Another perverse consequence of the paucity of debate in China is that there is a more vibrant discussion of Chinese affairs – whether the topic is Darfur, democracy or dirty air – in Washington, London and Paris than there is in Beijing or Shanghai.

If China could open up even a little in the months ahead, its officials and citizens would be better prepared for the onslaught of criticism and political activism likely to be directed at Beijing’s domestic and foreign policies ahead of the Olympic Games. And Chinese internet users might be more tolerant and polite in their e-mail attacks on those who comment on Chinese affairs.

I agree with Mallet’s call for a more robust culture of public debate, but I wonder if it will really lead to online civility. I hope not. How else could I find someone to tell me I look like Homer Simpson?