The executive vice president of the Beijing organizing committee, Mr. Wang [Wei ] was put on the defensive by a British television journalist who repeatedly asked International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Giselle Davies if the Swiss-based body was "embarrassed" about bringing the Games to China.It is good that China is getting called out for its many abuses and that the International Olympic Committee being asked by the press to defend its decision to host its games in China. There is something deeply perverse about holding a celebrated event such as the Olympics in a nation that denies its people basic freedoms such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion. This is not a question of trading widgets with an individual Chinese businessman to mutual benefit and leaving it to the Chinese to improve their own lot. This is a question of whether a venerated institution in the world of sport should lend its laurels to a government that seeks to use the games to help solidify its brutal hegemony over its own people.
China's authoritarian government and the IOC have repeatedly said the games would open the country to social change and stoke breakthroughs on religious freedom and the treatment of the country's minorities.
Worse, the Chinese government is attempting to loose its hegemony upon the Olympic athletes themselves by squeching thier ability to worship as they would see fit. According to this report by the Washington Post, Chinese promises of religious freedom for Olympic athletes have not been kept.
China's ruling Communist Party is suspicious of any cause that could compete with its authority, including organized religion. Officially, the party allows worship only at registered churches belonging to a state-controlled organization; non-registered places of worship are closely monitored. The party also bans foreign chaplains' holding services without government permission or proselytizing on Chinese soil.For all the claims of China's much-vaunted changes, the reality is that China's actions are not all that far removed from when the Society of Right and Harmonious Fists worked to block all foreign influence at the turn of the last century. Philosophic and religious freedom is a fundamental right of sovereign minds, yet here China's ruling clique recognizes no sovereignty other than its own, even when it comes to the freedom of the guest athletes participating in the Olympic games.
In the run-up to the Games, Chinese Olympic officials clashed behind closed doors with their international counterparts over the sensitive topic of whether to allow in foreign chaplains.
In Athens in 2004, more than 100 religious leaders speaking several dozen languages were stationed in the Olympic Village. Many had extensive experience counseling elite athletes facing extreme pressure.
While China held its ground on foreign clerics, it promised that it would provide its own chaplains and that athletes would be allowed to worship just as they would in their home countries.
But visitors to the center say that the majority of the 65 staff members there are student volunteers and that, at best, they can speak broken English, French, Italian, Korean and Arabic. All are Chinese.
For the past few days, athletes and others have been marching into the center and asking for spiritual counseling in their native languages. They know that, in most cases, the staff there won't be able to oblige. That's the point.
I have read that Swedish wrestler Ara Abrahamian threw down his bronze medal in protest against some officiating that he disagreed with. My hope is that an athlete with moral courage would choose to make a similar gesture, but to protest the larger and vastly more serious injustices perpetuated by the Chinese in association with these games. I'm sorry, but as stupendous an individual achievement winning an Olympic medal can be, it is not worth turning a blind eye to the obvious denial of individual freedom that exists in China today.