Last Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) finally found its voice and admonished China for violating the spirit of the Olympic Games. In response to comments by two top Chinese Communist Party officials in Tibet, the IOC issued a stern reminder to China that sports and politics don’t mix.Beijing predictably defended statements that authorities should crush Tibetan dissidents to “bring more glory” to the Olympics. There’s nothing political about creating a “harmonious environment,” the Chinese foreign ministry replied.
While Beijing has repeatedly rebuked governments and organizations that mention human rights in the context of the Olympics, the reality is that no one has politicized the Games more profoundly than China.
China tied the Olympics to government reform when it promised the IOC in 2001 that the Games would make it loosen its reins on the press and freedom of speech. It has also used the Olympic torch relay as a symbol of its glory and rising prestige, sending the flame on the most ambitious tour in its history, escorted by paramilitary officers.
The route included Tibet and Xinjiang, where authorities did everything within their power to portray stability in these hot spots of discontent. Police reportedly launched a campaign of intimidation, detaining thousands of Uighurs deemed to be potential protesters ahead of the relay.
China has also politicized the Games by attempting to include Taiwan in its domestic torch route while preventing the nation’s medal-winning taekwondo team from training there ahead of competition (more) .