Past Event

Are the Games Olympic or Political?

There is much controversy surrounding the 2008 Beijing Olympics. While the Olympics are ostensibly about athletic competition, they also confer political legitimacy and serve as an economic stimulus to host cities. For China, the Olympics function as a coming out party for their recent economic surge and some of their political and social reforms. For many others, the Beijing Olympics are an opportunity to protest China’s support for the Sudanese government in the wake of chronic violence in Darfur and their own violent crackdown after the riots in Tibet.

Indeed, China’s coming out party is rife with political tension and conflict; not just in the recent past, but in the present. In addition to protests the world over in cities that the Olympic torch has passed through, several national Olympic committees have issued gag orders on their athletes. Still, athletes are threatening to protest en masse.

The issue of attending and supporting the Olympics has also been a difficult one for politicians and other public figures. Last Thursday, the White House confirmed that President Bush will attend the opening ceremonies, as will French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Bush said that it would be an "affront to the Chinese people" to not attend the ceremonies. However, other world leaders such as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have elected to skip the opening festivities. Many Hollywood celebrities have also spoken out against the Beijing Games. Actress Mia Farrow and director Steven Spielberg, who resigned as artistic adviser to the opening and closing ceremonies, have both used the Olympics as a way of drawing attention to China’s involvement in Darfur.

Should politicians, artists, and others with political or cultural capital boycott this year’s Olympics? Or does the symbolic meaning of the Olympics outweigh specific concerns about the host country? What governments have hosted the Olympics without some type of internal political or social controversy?

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