The Olympic Games are not supposed to be about politics, but of course they are and probably always have been. From Jesse Owens stealing Hitler's Olympic thunder to the slaughter in Munich to Jimmy Carter's boycott in Moscow to the corruption of the site selection process itself, the supposed apolitical purity of competition in the Olympic arena has long been more idealistic than real.
And now, we come to the so-called Genocide Olympics, which is exactly the stigma the International Olympic Committee deserves for awarding the 2008 Summer Games to Beijing.
How does one of the bloodiest conflicts in the world, thousands of miles away in the western Sudan of Africa, come back to haunt the IOC and its selection of China?
Well, the issue of human rights was sure to come up. After all, it is China. Remember
And, of course, there is Tibet.
The story of this ancient land is a nearly incomprehensible jigsaw puzzle of temples and Mongols, of warlords and peace treaties, of invasions from all directions, of the various Khans and the various Dalai Lamas.
The short version is that most of the Tibet province is under Chinese authority and the communist rulers have closed their eyes to alleged widespread torture meant to destabilize Buddhism. In the process, millions of Chinese settlers have stripped Tibetans of any status in their own land. How many have died? What are the conditions under which the Tibetans are forced to live? What has become of their monasteries and religious leaders? China has made Tibet off limits to foreign journalists, dropping a curtain of secrecy.
But the word leaks out and Buddhists around the world have joined with Tibetan exiles and civil activists to protest what was supposed to be a celebration, the world-wide journey of the Olympic torch, the coming-out party, so to speak, of the Beijing Olympics. Apologists say China has been humiliated by the outrage and controversy, and mostly by bad publicity.
Tibet, though, is a drop in the bloody bucket compared to Darfur, a region in the west of Sudan where an estimated 400,000 have died and 2.5 million have been displaced in a five-year-long ethnic battle between non-Arab rebels and the Sudan military backed by Arab militia.
What is China's responsibility there? Good question. I wondered the same thing and did a bit of research.
The U.S. has sanctioned the Sudanese government for more than a decade, alleging genocide, and while the United Nations has fallen short of using that dreaded word it has passed one resolution after another decrying the country's human rights violations and calling for a peacekeeping force in Darfur.
Several hours east, in the thriving capital of Khartoum, where the Blue Nile and White Nile rivers join, billions of Chinese dollars, mixed with that of other Asian and Arab investors, has created a petroleum empire. The vast majority of exports go to China.
Because Sudan has no need for western money, it can afford to ignore the west's fury over Darfur's fate. Its major benefactor, after all, has never placed any particular value on human life.
Still, Chinese leaders can read. They know what people are saying. They've cringed at activists like actress Mia Farrow, who came up with the far-from-flattering "Genocide Olympics" tag. So they recently took the unprecedented step of sending a special envoy to Khartoum to "assist" in dealing with the Darfur crisis and to suggest the Sudan government accept U.N. peacekeepers.
It's a start, perhaps, and Chinese interest is guaranteed a shelf life of some four months. But before its Olympics were used as leverage the Chinese could not have cared less about Darfur. We can only speculate on their level of concern after the closing ceremonies in August.
Back on the home front, in a concession to unexpected pressure from the IOC itself, Chinese officials said they will meet with envoys of the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet. In the next breath, the government's so-called justice department announced that 30 Tibetans, including six Buddhist monks, were given prison sentences of three years to life for their roles in recent violence meant to stir the pot while the Olympic torch made its rounds.
The Tibetans are fighting back. But that is not to be encouraged by a closed, unenlightened government that nonetheless wants to take its place as an equal player on the global stage.
The motto of the Beijing Olympics is "One World, One Dream."
But dreams in the host country, as in a backward, impoverished, baked-in-blood region of an African nation under its economic control thousands of miles away, are discouraged. The Genocide Olympics, indeed.
So, who will dare to dream? Who will fight back?
Where is Jimmy Carter when we need him?