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 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
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
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
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