The obscenity of the Olympics

It’s here again. The sporting spectacle that is about so much more than pure sporting prowess. I’m not a massive sports fan but I might find it in me to admire the Olympic ideal if it was only about sport. I find it depressing that the reality is that the Olympics is about pretty much everything except sporting ability. And this particular Olympics, in Beijing, is particularly objectionable.

The sum that China has spent on the games is US$40.9 billion. I find that obscene in a world where people are still dying of hunger or preventable diseases, where people lack clean drinking water, shelter, basic education and sanitation. The cost of this one Olympiad alone could have eradicated much of these problems, permanently.

Money aside, China hosting the games is an official endorsement by the IOC and participating nations of its appalling human rights record, on home turf and in Tibet. Billions of ordinary Chinese did not see the protests on TV as the Olympic flame was carried around the world because of state censorship. And China’s promise to ensure journalistic freedom for the press covering the events has already been shown up for the sham it is – journalists have been followed around (as broadcast on Panorama last Monday) and the Great Firewall of China has blocked access to parts of the internet for the press, despite assurances that foreign reporters would not face such problems.

All these issues mock the so-called Olympic ideal and show what a money-making farce the whole spectacle really is.

Closer to home, journalist Dave Lee has blogged eloquently on the news priorities of the BBC, which has spent millions of pounds of licence-payers’ money on the right to screen the games. Russia has invaded Georgia, thousands have died and every major media outlet around the globe led on this terrible turn of events, except the BBC which continued to lead on the Olympic opening ceremony in a vain attempt to get its money’s worth. Go and read Dave’s blog – it’s wonderfully detailed in its examination of how the BBC has boobed yet again.

Like Dave, I’m a vocal supporter of the BBC under normal circumstances, yet I know only too well how it gets its priorities wrong. As a public service broadcaster, the BBC should be ensuring that it spends its money wisely, fairly and in an unbiased fashion. The small window I caught of the live opening ceremony of the Olympics (roughly the last 20 minutes) showed that was not the case – the presenters were very uncritical of China’s human rights record, for example, making only the lightest passing references to the situation in Tibet and the protests that followed the flame. They didn’t bother to mention at all the Chinese dissidents who have been locked up while the games are on to avoid problems, those who were forced out of their homes near to the stadium and those minorities who have been harassed by the security forces. There is a well-referenced article on Wikipedia about these and other controversies. I expect the BBC to be neutral in its reporting, instead of tiptoeing around a nation it has given a vast sum of money to for broadcasting rights.

I’ll be doing my best to avoid the saturation coverage over the next fortnight, thankful that the time difference will mean the evening TV schedules, at least, are unlikely to be heavily disrupted. And part of me will be secretly hoping that dissidents do manage to cause turmoil and show these games up for the obscenity that they are.

1 thought on “The obscenity of the Olympics”

  1. Hear, hear.

    On my walk home today I went past the large BBC screen outside the triangle (Manchester) and noted that the ceremony was being watched almost exclusively by members of the Chinese community.

    Made me wonder if this message really did get through to people, or whether everyone else is too apathetic to even stare at a screen any more!


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