By Luke Hostetter
A shadow has been cast over the typical celebration and joy that surrounds the arrival of the summer Olympics. The human rights record of China has thrown the 2008 Games into a sea of controversy and is threatening to extinguish the eternal Olympic flame.
China’s presence in Tibet is inciting protests and violence across the world, undermining the unifying symbolism of the Olympic Games.
I’ve been involved with athletics my entire life and the Olympics always held significant meaning to me.
The summer Olympics represents the bringing together of countries and athletes from around the world, regardless of ethnicity, religious beliefs, or culture. It is one of the few moments in this world where all people are regarded as equals. Once you are on the track, field, or in the water, there are no prejudices; you are judged on performance, and not on ideals. The Olympics functions as a test of world humanity, and evaluates the state of our global community.
For these very reasons, the recent controversy with Tibet has troubled me.
I cannot argue with the current demonstrations. If I felt I was being victimized, I would take whatever steps necessary to have my voice heard.
My hope is that these demonstrations and protests will ultimately have a unifying outcome, and act as a rallying call for human rights and freedom across the world.
While it is unfortunate that the spirit of the Olympics is tarnished by protests and violence, I feel that China should be allowed to host the Olympic Games and countries should not protest them.
Human rights are one of the most important and sensitive topics any country faces. Throughout U.S. history countless violations of these rights have been committed; from the American Indians, to slavery, to civil rights, to Abu Ghraib, and to the atrocities committed today in Iraq.
Does this mean we are not suited to host the Olympics either?
Most of the western world does not comprehend the scale which China operates. Stability is crucial in a country that hosts 20% of the world’s population (1.32 billion people).
The recent Tibetan protests are threatening the stability and safety of people across China. However, when the government attempts to quell these large-scale protests, the western media makes China out to be further violating human rights.
China is working hard to change the perception of its country, and wants to demonstrate this resolve to the world. Less than 20 years ago the Chinese government killed hundreds of people in Tiananmen Square: progress is being made.
Does this excuse the treatment of the Tibetan people?
No, it does not.
China has to listen to the voices of the Tibetans who cry out for freedom, and take steps to resolve this situation. But to strip the Olympics from China or for other nations to protest the games would not be appropriate.
In 1936 the Olympics were hosted by Nazi Germany. While the Germans won most of the medals, an African-American athlete named Jesse Owens won four gold medals in front of Adolf Hitler and stole the hearts of the German public in a country where segregation and racial discrimination was the norm. Owens’ performance will go down as one of the most memorable in Olympic history, despite the controversy surrounding the games.
While this is not a comparison of China to Nazi Germany, let us not lose site of the purpose of these games: To bring together all athletes from across the world, regardless of ideals, to compete for the world to watch, and ultimately unify us as a global community in the spirit of sport.
If we fail in doing this, then I’m afraid we are failing the test of our humanity.
Luke Hostetter is a senior.