Why I don’t support the Olympic torch protesters

April 14, 2008

We’ve all seen the footage. Demonstrators decked out in Tibetan flags being man-handled by the toughs in the blue tracksuits. A microcosm, you might say, of the Chinese attitude to human rights: the weak, seeking only a platform for free expression, beating beaten down by the faceless strong. Silly arguments about sovereignty and trite comparisons with Israel aside, few could disagree that the Chinese have done many bad things in Tibet, for which they should rightly be condemned.

But in this way, and at this time? The Olympics have been effectively politicised before – remember Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s epoch-defining statement for black power on the podium in Mexico in 1968 – but they have also been ruined, and their purpose debased, by extensions of power-politicking into a realm where it does not belong. Did the American boycott of Moscow 1980, and the Soviet reprisal in Los Angeles in 1984, really make either side anymore morally pure? It entrenched antagonisms, exacerbated differences, and sunk into the muddied waters of everyday pettiness perhaps the only world forum that seeks, for a brief few weeks, to set common humanity apart from ideology.

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