The Western Media Respond to the Beijing Olympics

As I suggested over the weekend now that the Games are over and the correspondents happily back from their sojourns in China covering the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the Western media are singing a somewhat different tune than they were while the games were in progress. L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace.

Yesterday a story in the Times of London reported on how water projects for the Olympics overruled the needs of the Chinese people:

THOUSANDS of Chinese farmers face ruin because their water has been cut off to guarantee supplies to the Olympics in Beijing, and officials are now trying to cover up a grotesque scandal of blunders, lies and repression.

In the capital, foreign dignitaries have admired millions of flowers in bloom and lush, well-watered greens around its famous sights. But just 90 minutes south by train, peasants are hacking at the dry earth as their crops wilt, their money runs out and the work of generations gives way to despair, debt and, in a few cases, suicide.

In between these two Chinas stands a cordon of roadblocks and hundreds of security agents deployed to make sure that the one never sees the other.

The water scandal is a parable of what can happen when a demanding global event is awarded to a poor agricultural nation run by a dictatorship; and the irony is that none of it has turned out to be necessary.

The combination of authoritarian iron fist, corruption, and incompetence portrayed in the story is somewhat different from the false front the Chinese leadership put on the Games but all too reminiscent of the actual story behind the story.

Today Der Spiegel Online takes note of the contrasts in these Games:

On the inside, in the so-called Accredited Zones, these Olympic Games were perfect. The images of these perfect games circled the globe, accompanied by postcard pictures of pagodas, terracotta warriors and graceful Chinese girls. Against the story told by this picture book, criticism of the games seemed like little more than sour grapes.

But on the outside, in the city of Beijing and throughout China, the lives of ordinary people went on. A number of changes in those lives have taken place, to be sure, but they are still lives led under the watchful eyes of the government. In this China, those disagreeable to the government are simply removed, staging a protest remains a criminal offense, public celebrations are frowned upon and all roads make wide detours around restricted zones guarded by soldiers — zones that include Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

Gentle chiding, indeed. In fact Spiegel’s harshest criticism is for the IOC:

Where is the Olympic movement — what is the status of sports — in these times of ongoing suspicions of doping, suspicions that were only heightened with every win by Jamaican sprinter and each additional gold medal won by American swimmer Michael Phelps? How much more commercialized can sports become? And what happens to the athletes when the world becomes all but obsessed with keeping track of the medal count?

“There are two grand delusions in sports,” says Thomas Bach, one of the four IOC vice presidents. He is a powerful man and a potential candidate to succeed Jacques Rogge as the organization’s president. He wore a tracksuit to our meeting in the Olympic Family Lounge inside the Olympic Village. “The one delusion,” said Bach, “is that sport has nothing to do with money. And the other one is that it has nothing to do with politics. Both lead to unnecessary and sometimes disastrous debates.”

Bach is the sort of person who, when asked difficult questions, begins by saying: Let’s not kid ourselves. When asked about the IOC’s prediction that China would change for the better after the games, and that it would “open up” politically, he said: “Let’s not kid ourselves. We, as the IOC, cannot change an entire society.”

Rather different than the tune they were singing when they awarded China the Games. Frankly, that strikes me as somewhat patronizing.

In a generally glowing op-ed on the Games, former French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin notes that same nexus between politics and sports—that the Games have reinforced China’s national cohesion:

La mobilisation de la population chinoise, avec les succès du patriotisme sportif, a naturellement renforcé la cohésion nationale du pays, ce qui était un objectif évident des dirigeants chinois, notamment au lendemain du terrible séisme du Sichuan. La cohésion, troisième succès.

Clearly, it’s impossible to remove the nationalism from the world’s premier international athletic event. But should the IOC be in the business of bolstering autocratic regimes as allowing China to host the Games clearly has done?

I’ll make the futile pitch I make every four years: it’s long past time to give the Olympics a permanent home, preferably in Greece near the place where the original Games were held more than 2,000 years ago. It will never happen, of course. All those IOC officials being wined and dined by countries eager to host the Games.

FILED UNDER: Sports, World Politics, ,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. […] posted a little round-up of the reactions of the international news media to the Beijing Olympic Games. Slowly, slowly the criticism comes […]

  2. Bithead says:

    I’ll make the futile pitch I make every four years: it’s long past time to give the Olympics a permanent home, preferably in Greece near the place where the original Games were held more than 2,000 years ago. It will never happen, of course. All those IOC officials being wined and dined by countries eager to host the Games


    The winter games, for one thing; there’s no appriciable snowfall there as I gather it.

    Second, what is to prevent Greece from becoming a dictatorship at some point in future? Certainly, we’ve seen other countries we never expected to go down that road suprise us.

  3. Bithead says:

    I put this in a seperate reply because it seems to me of enough import to be out on it’s own.

    should the IOC be in the business of bolstering autocratic regimes as allowing China to host the Games clearly has done?

    Well, there seems something of a history there, aside from China, given these locations and dates:

    1936 – Berlin, Germany
    1980 – Moscow, U.S.S.R.
    And even now, there are plans to hold the winter games in 2014 at Sochi, Russia

    I’m sure the IOC views itself as being apolitical, rather than giving credibility to totalitarian regimes, in much the same way as the press views itself as ‘neutral’. But just as the press and the public are coming to grips with the effective bias exhibited by the press, perhaps they will start addressing the similar problem the IOC has?

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    Switzerland would make a perfect permanent home for the winter games.

  5. markm says:

    Not to get off the beaten path..but “now that the Games are over and the correspondents happily back from their sojourns in China covering the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the Western media are singing a somewhat different tune than they were while the games were in progress.”

    Seems to be some conflict…

    “Everybody’s watching what’s going on in Beijing right now with the Olympics , Think about the amount of money that China has spent on infrastructure. Their ports, their train systems, their airports are vastly the superior to us now, which means if you are a coporation deciding where to do business you’re starting to think, “Beijing looks like a pretty good option.””

  6. tonypow says:

    Celebration of Olympics Bronzes

    What happened?
    How can we lose gold count to China, a third world country?
    Let’s have a national holiday of mourning. No one objects I bet!
    Let’s have a national contest of the best excuses of winning so less gold medals.
    It has to be the BEST, so it could worth a gold in this category.

    What to do?
    Borrow more money from China to buy foreign coaches…
    No Speedo to Australia and China.
    My secret weapon is to import 8 Jamaican runners. Money talks!
    Bribe the judges (a little harder as everyone hates us but money talks again).
    Change all the rules to our favor: 5 medals for basketball, 1 for table tennis, 0 for diving…
    All tiebreakers must go our way as our sponsors own the Olympics.
    We will amplify their “shortcomings”:
    copying our advance lip sing technique, working too hard, starting before you can walk…
    The Chinese must have put slippery jell on our batons and/or the gym apparatus.
    Develop a dope that can take out all dope traces from our body.
    “One country, all medals” is our new Olympics slogan.
    The more wishfully we think, the closer we succeed.

    How to heal now, really?
    Write to Dear Abby for starter.
    Bronze is the same as gold if not better.
    If you do not believe me, ask any blind person here.
    It is harder to get a bronze as we have to LET two others to win.
    We’ll train our athletes for the bronze from now on.
    NBC should interview bronze winners only as they are the real winners.
    Actually we’ll be happier to be #3 and build a better relationship with other nations.
    Stop laughing. It is a fact!!!
    Phelps, we love you more with 8 bronze medals – it is no easy job to let 2 and ONLY 2 pass you 8 times.

    If everything does not work, turn ugly.
    Ask McDonald’s and KFC to give away their “food” (better than opium) to China FREE, so their next generation will be so fat that they cannot walk to the subway station.
    Send soldiers to grab the medals, esp. gold. Hey, we have the best offense.
    Will the world be better if we only fought for gold medals only (bronze medals in our case)?
    What an Olympic spirit to celebrate the winning of the bronze!

    — The author is Tony Pow. 8/22/08. Created for fun. No politics. No dumb nationalism. No ego. 90% false, 10% true. 100% fun. Hope no offense to you. Please feel free to distribute/change… —

  7. RC says:


    Good point. But I have better idea that will be simpler and more cost-efficient – instead pay huge amount of money for the broadcasting rights, simply use the money to make US-only Olympics. All foreign countries and foreign athletes are banned. So we will have not only world champagne of basketball, baseball, American football, we will also have world champagne in table tennis, diving, and badminton. Every gold, silver and bronze.

  8. Fence says:

    I’ll make the futile pitch I make every four years: it’s long past time to give the Olympics a permanent home, preferably in Greece

    Sounds like having every leg of the Amazing Race show always take place in Peoria. A big part of the viewer interest is getting at least a small feel for a new place.

    And having been to 9 of the last 11 summer host cities, some of them both before and after the Olympics, there is certainly some local infrastructure benefit that was often badly needed but wouldn’t have happened but for the cash infusion from the games.

    All that said, Berlin 1936 was obviously a very bad choice.

  9. RC says:

    and 8 bronze are much harder than 8 gold, because for gold, you have only someones behind you. For bronze, you not have rivals behind you, you also have competiters ahead of you. So bronze should worth more.

  10. ohdosodoff says:

    Asinine twaddle. i’ve been reading lots of Olympics coverage, and the ratio of criticism to praise is roughly the same now as during the Games. If you’re trying to create a theme for your blog post, make sure you know what you’re talking about, instead of making sh*t up.

    Hiliarious Sinophobia btw. The majority of commentaries on China and the games haven’t a historical clue, and even less of an understanding of contemporary China. Your cold war evil empire narrative is outdated here. I suggest you educate yourself before doing the old hackneyed ChiCom is bad, baaad! dance. It’s getting almost as tedious as Bush Derangement Syndrome now.

  11. Fence says:

    ohdosodoff, if you want suggest China’s record on human rights and free speech and civil liberty and Tibet are worthy of the cursory defense you make, I’d say the ball is in your court, not Dave’s.

  12. Spoker says:

    It is becoming more ludicrous by the day to read the hyperbole that passes as informed comment and opinion regarding China, her history, her people, and what is best for them. I strongly suggest it would be much better for those that wish to force their will on the Chinese people to first study her 3,000 years of written history and culture, visit the country, meet and live with the people, learn how they think, learn and respect their opinions and customs, and learn first hand of their dreams and aspirations for themselves and their children, and what they need, desire, and expect from their government and leaders. Then, get out of the way and let them decide what is best for themselves and how they wish to go forward, just as we did in the U.S. 60 years ago China had a revolution, they had a clear choice and they choose. It would not have been my choice, but it was and is theirs. That is how they came to the government and society that have today, they chose it. Those that wish to force their changes on the Chinese in the name of free expression, free press, freedom of religion, or any other cause are just dictators in the name of their cause and are no better than the Nazi’s, Soviets, radical Muslims, or others despots throughout history.

    As a good friend’s father, a Taiwanese military intelligence of officer who fled to Taiwan with the Nationalists in 1948, one told me: “Western people will never understand China. They see China only through western eyes. For all but a very few years of our 3000 years of history most people in China went to bed poor, hungry, and in fear of their life every night. Today they go to bed after dinner, with a roof over their head, and with the belief they will be safe through the night. Western people will never understand that sometimes that that can be enough.”

  13. William d'Inger says:

    Is it just me or does it seem to anybody else like Chinese government agencies are monitoring OTB and posting political propaganda?

  14. Spoker says:

    William, thank you most kindly for your near witty response. It is not often that in a single sentence someone can prove their lack of both wit and intellect and while still proving the original point.

    As my father used to say: “Never give credit to malice and forethought that which can be so well be explained by ignorance and prejudice.” It never ceases to amaze to me the how the older I get, the wiser he becomes.