Mar 272008
Authors: Joseph Haynie

Although the Olympics are about the athletes and the spirit of competition, it will be hard to ignore the politics during the upcoming summer games.

Politics have, fortunately, taken center stage as the initial phases of the games have begun.

At the torch lighting ceremony earlier this week in Greece, several individuals interrupted the proceedings to protest the Chinese government’s brutal policy toward Tibet. A prelude to the protests that will assuredly follow the torch on its way to Beijing, the recent actions, both in Greece and in Tibet, have brought up the topic of boycotting the summer games.

Notwithstanding the recent turmoil in Tibet and the support of the Sudanese government, there are plenty of reasons to boycott the Olympic Games in Beijing.

China routinely and systematically oppresses political dissidents and journalists. With 16 of the top 20 most polluted cities located in the People’s Republic, China does not exactly have eco-friendly policies.

However, boycotting the games is not the solution to these and many other problems in China.

As reported by CNN, President Bush, in reaffirming his commitment to attend the games, told China’s president, Hu Jintao, that the games would “shine a spotlight on all things Chinese.”

China’s international exposure is contingent upon the number of individuals watching the games from overseas. If countries boycott, a majority of the population will more than likely not watch as their country men and women will not be participating. Therefore, the human rights violations and other issues plaguing China will not be highlighted.

Boycotting the games only limits the number of avenues of protest.

Over the years, the Olympics have been the stage on which more has been done and said than not participating could ever do or say.

In 1936, Nazi Germany hosted the summer games. With tensions building in Europe, and the suspect politics of the Nazi regime gaining more concern in the international community, the American Olympic Committee favored the idea of a boycott, fearing that participation would be a demonstration of support for the regime and its policies.

However, the motion of boycott failed to gain traction and the committee voted to send a group of athletes to Berlin.

In an attempt to demonstrate Germany’s racial superiority, Hitler only allowed Aryan athletes to represent the host nation. But it was a “non-Aryan,” an African-American athlete by the name of Jesse Owens who stole the show, demonstrating his athletic superiority by winning four gold medals.

In 1968, at the Mexico City Olympics, two African-American athletes, at the medal ceremony for their respective event, raised black-gloved fists and wore black attire, drawing attention to the Civil Rights Movement just north of the border. The world was their audience.

Though the success of the movement cannot be attributed to their demonstration, they were participants nonetheless.

As seen in both Berlin and Mexico City, the Olympics have become a stage for political action, both indirect and direct.

Had America boycotted the games, Jesse Owens would not have shown that hair, eye and skin color have nothing to do with athletic ability. The 1968 Olympics will forever be remembered for those two fists, and not for medal counts or broken records.

The onus for change in China lies with the individual. Athletes and activists are the ones with the power to bring attention to China’s problems.

It’s safe to assume that China will be closely watching the games, monitoring for any political activism, but so too will the rest of the world.

All eyes are on China and will continue to be so until the games are done. Maybe the Olympics will finally be the catalyst for change that is so desperately needed in the People’s Republic.

Joseph Haynie is a senior political science major. His column appears Fridays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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