ANALYSIS: Media Watch - Olympic-sized debate over choice of Beijingfor 2008 Games

Of the five cities competing to host the 2008 Olympic Games -

Beijing, Istanbul, Osaka, Paris, and Toronto - Beijing always seemed

like the most controversial choice.



But it should have been no surprise when Beijing won the July 13

International Olympic Committee vote. The US media had been regularly

identifying Beijing as the heavy favorite in the week before the vote

was cast. No doubt, that was due to "a hefty public relations campaign"

(CNN.com, July 13) that China had undertaken.



But while the press acknowledged Beijing's front-runner status, numerous

US newspapers cited arguments that a country with such a poor human

rights record as China should not be rewarded with the honor of hosting

the Olympics.



The 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre is well-known, but it is just one of

innumerable incidents, according to these critics. More recent

grievances include the crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement,

the arrest of Chinese-American scholars, and repression in Tibet. Citing

Amnesty International statistics, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (July 8)

reported, "China executed more people in the last three months than the

rest of the world did in the last three years."



The editorial board of The Kansas City Star (July 5) reasoned, "Choosing

China to host the Games would confer an undeserved honor on a regime

that often appears to be at war with its own people. China's regime

frequently seems blind to the effect of its heavy-handed actions on

world opinion."



Citing the historical example of the 1936 Olympic Games held in Adolf

Hitler's Nazi Germany, critics knocked the idea that awarding the

Olympics to an authoritarian country would help foster liberal changes.

A Boston Herald editorial (July 2) wrote, "Hosting the 1936 Olympics

didn't humanize Hitler; it gave him a propaganda coup."



Although US papers often voiced such criticism of Beijing, it was the

flip side to such arguments that must have persuaded Olympic committee

members to select China, which has never hosted an Olympics. Proponents

of Beijing's bid wagered that supporting it was not a reward for past

behavior, but a gesture of goodwill, to serve as an incentive for China

to more fully join the global community. The seven years between now and

the 2008 Games will subject China to global scrutiny on a host of

issues, ranging from political reform, human rights, and environmental

conservation.



Then during the Games, China will be exposed to a tidal wave of diverse

cultures and ideas, as millions of athletes, tourists, and corporate

sponsors arrive in Beijing for the Olympics.



USA Today founder Al Neuharth wrote, "Bringing the best young athletes

and thousands of journalists from around the world to Beijing would have

a positive effect on China and its 1.3 billion people. That spotlight

also would help us realize what huge changes are taking place in that

country" (USA Today, July 6). To support their case, proponents referred

back to the 1988 Games, seen as a pivotal contributor in pushing South

Korea's authoritarian government to adopt democratic rule.



Although some purists will say the Olympics are all about competition

and sports, the political overtones of the 2008 decision were

overwhelming.



So now that Beijing has been designated the host, here's hoping that

China wins a gold medal for its ability to host the Olympic Games.



Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found

at www.carma.com.



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