Friday, April 18, 2008

Torch Song

During the Sydney Olympics in September of 2000 the city was indeed a beautiful place. The weather was wonderful . . hot and shiny. A whole Olympic site had been developed on a former munitions dump and despite my, and indeed many of my friends', desire to flee the place for the three week event, I stayed at home. As happenstance would have it I also rented my Granny Flat to a lovely Seattle Family who payed handsomely for the privilege. We welcomed them with an Aussie barbie, they were delighted with the hospitality and accommodation and I acquiesced to their requests to 'go to the mall'. I drove them to appropriate bus locations and picked them up after events (did I say they paid me handsomely?) and scored a few tickets to events that clashed (I hadn't bought tickets to any events myself). Thanks to the Perkins, DrummerBoy saw the Water Polo, ClearBear and I went to the Rhythmic Gymnastics and I scored a day at the Dressage finals. Foreigners, were able to purchase unsold tickets once they were in the country so some events clashed and the Perkins family were kind enough to pass their pre-purchased tickets on to us. I can't describe the mood of the city during that time - it was amazing.

ClareBear was 16 years old and the city was so safe, well lit and patrolled that I let her stay long into the night at various 'live sights' - even bought us mobile phones as I normally wouldn't let a 16 year old venture into town late at night. Truthfully? It was a wonderful three weeks. People were friendly, helpful, kind and filled with enthusiasm. The atmosphere was one of community and very welcoming. Crime rates dropped severely and it ended up being the 'best games ever'. Shame we couldn't sustain that atmosphere and cohesion.

Tonight on the news I watched as New Delhi was completely shut down for a three kilometre torch relay. This is after earlier in the week the US leg being run through alternative routes and warehouses to dodge protesters. I remember standing on Old Northern Road with a bunch of littlies, cheering as the torch went by. Not because I gave a flying fuck about the Olympics but because our little suburb happened to have a torch relay and I knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to say 'I'd been there on the day'.

I am astutely aware of the Tibetan rallying against China. I think their timing is perfect to achieve a world focus. While the world watches the torch relay, it's a perfect opportunity to receive media attention but I'm also in typical empathic fashion disappointed at the level of violence and control that the torch relay is receiving. In 2000, not a secret service person in sight, although I'm sure they were there. We're not into dressing like Men In Black. Just families cheering from the sideline and if they were lucky, getting a glimpse of a previous or potential gold medallist. Whatever security was around, it was subtle and in the background. Now, it's a media circus. Cities being shut down . . blue track-suited Chinese secret service keeping the hoards away or worse still, the torch being diverted. So what's the point? Don't get me wrong, I really don't care either way whether the Olympics takes place or not.

I don't care for sport although I'll probably put up with Bruce McIvaney prattling on about Australia's fantastic swimmers, basketballers, rowers, walkers, pole vaulters . . and if I hear another word about that biatch of a hurdler Jana whatshersnottt, I'll throw a brick at the TV. It's as if no other country is competing . . .but I still believe that the Olympics should be beyond politics. I admire the Tibetans for finally getting their cause exposed on mainstream media (although it smacks of Western spin doctoring) and bringing their plight to the people. It's a great opportunity to present their cause and the obnoxious human rights record of the Chinese into the media spotlight. But . . . hands off the athletes. Stand at the side of the road, be exposed to the cameras, fly your flags, wave your banners, cry your tears and chant your grievances . . . just don't jump on these kids who have given up so much to become elite sportspeople.

If blame is to be laid, it's firmly with the International Olympic Committee for actually awarding China the Olympics in the first place . . would they have given it to Zimbabwe if they'd made a presentation? Would they have awarded the honour to North Korea? I think not. The fault lies not with the athletes but with a blindsided, IOC, for allowing a repressive Communist regime with an abysmal human rights record to hold this prestigious (to some) sporting event. Why isn't anyone giving them the finger?

Kudos Tibet, on April 24, the day before one of our most solemn day Anzac Day, keep protesting but keep it clean, peaceful and serene, as is your leader. Don't forget your origins and you principals. Beware the rent-a-crowd. You will lose empathy if you persist in violent protest . . . a peaceful fight will do your cause more good than mauling athletes during a torch relay. My prayer flags are flying for you. Seriously.

And get those bloody blue tracksuits out of the picture. Kev07 vows they won't be present in Australia . . we'll see!


Nick said...

It's great that the torch relay has attracted pro-Tibet protests and given the issue such prominence. I didn't know the athletes were being attacked, I thought it was just attempts to extinguish the flame or steal the torch. And I think the real chance to become an elite sportsperson is at the Olympics itself, not the relay. So I'm okay with what's going on.

As you say, China should never have got the Olympics in the first place, in fact I don't understand why it has to move from country to country, why can't it just stay in one place? There are already rumours that London won't have a torch relay because of the protest potential and the resulting security costs.

And what's the point of a torch relay anyway? It was started by the Nazis in 1936 as a pro-Aryan, pro-Third Reich stunt so its origins are pretty seedy.

Thriftcriminal said...

Well said Baino, though I think we are entering a period of international manouvering that will see heightened tensions for some time to come, including regular incidences of increased and overt security. Pity .

Emperor Ropi said...

Well, Hungarians has very bad experiences about good timing to gain World focus. I don't really watch Olimpics.

ian said...


I'm not sure the International OLympic Committee has ever had great regard for human rights - Berlin 1936 and Moscow 1980 spring to mind. The Olympic people try to insist it's nothing to do with politics, if so why do they carry national flags and wear national colours? If it is nothing to do with politics, let the athletes all come in together with just a single Olympic flag and let them wear white.

Nick said...

Ian, excellent points. Quite right, why don't they all wear white? With just a torch symbol on whatever they're wearing.

Baino said...

Nick: I don't think any athletes have been literally 'attacked' but the jostling particularly in London and the States was awful. It's origins are seedy but then so is that of the Volkswagen. I guess it's just a publicity stunt that's taken hold.

Thrifty sadly you're right. There's a burgeoning industry in security for all manner of sports and events. Sign of the times.

Ropi I'm not sure what you mean other than perhaps the time of revolution when your country received widespread attention. I'm not too fussed on the Olympics either due to the very biased coverage, you would think Australia was on top of the medal tally!

Ian good point, I'd forgotten about Moscow but I'm not sure carrying a national flag is a political statement, rather just pride in country.

Now if they all wore white, we'd run out of Omo thanks to the grass stains!

Quickroute said...

I also don't see the point of the fuss around the torch relay - It's not as if the olympics needs this marketing campaign. Scrap the relay and donate the humungous amounts of money being spent on it to tackle Human Rights abuses.

Anonymous said...

The fault does lie with International Olympic Committee!

Melissa said...

Wow ... the difference from what you experienced back at the Sydney games and this year's is really tragic. I remember in elementary school when the Olympics first captured me -- Mary Lou Retton was the big winner that year. I hope that once the games actually start things will get better!

Brian Damage said...

The Nazis started that relay to promote the geatness of the Aryan race.

Enough said.

Baino said...

Anony: I agree, I think human rights should be part of the selection criteria.

Melissa: It was a really nice time despite my initial reluctance to stay in the city, it's sad to see it dragged through the mud with violence and such negative controversy. Having said that, if there were no Olympic games in the future, it wouldn't break my heart.

BrianD: Hitler commissioned the Volkswagen. when I last checked, we're still into driving them. The torch relay has morphed into something else - it's just a publicity stunt to sell tickets and encourage fervor.