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Published: Tuesday, 8/5/2008

Let the real games begin

AFTER a political prologue, the Olympics are set to open in Beijing on Friday, shifting attention from the games as a tool of transformation for China to the athletic contests themselves.

The award of the summer games to China by the International Olympic Committee in 2001 was, from the start, a controversial decision. China has a dubious human rights record and a notoriously high level of atmospheric pollution, which prompted pledges by the Beijing government to make improvements.

It was perhaps unrealistic on the part of the IOC and the world to expect a lot. China s Communist government has been heavy-handed in dealing with any political opposition since it took power 58 years ago. Its pollution is an unfortunate fallout of the tremendous economic growth that has been under way for decades.

In recent months, the government reacted badly to signs of resistance by the Tibetans and remains obdurate on the Falun Gong and the Uighurs. Its response to the earthquake in Sichuan province was, at first, impressive, but then the government hamhandedly quashed the protests of parents on shoddy schoolhouse construction that raised the casualty rate.

The latest issue to flare up is the violation of Beijing s pledge to allow members of the international media covering the Olympics unfettered access to Internet sites. As much as the Chinese like to spin reality, they still have a largely authoritarian state.

Nonetheless, it is now time for the Olympics to begin and it makes sense for everyone to shift attention to the games. For the athletes who have prepared for their moment on the world stage, the host nation s handling of political critics or the environment is not the main focus. Nor should it be for the spectators and TV viewers.

Everyone can return to those weightier topics when the torch is extinguished.

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