International Papers

Give Us the Olympics, or We’ll Shoot

With the International Olympic Committee set to announce the 2008 Olympic Games venue on Friday, several newspapers editorialized about Beijing’s suitability. Canada’s Globe and Mail admitted bias in favor of its hometown (Toronto and Paris are Beijing’s strongest rivals), but declared: “Regardless of who the other contenders are, it would be wrong to award the Games to Beijing. … It would reward an authoritarian regime that tramples on the most basic rights of the Chinese people.” The Financial Times counseled the IOC members to ignore political factors when making their selection: “Despite the ugliness of the Chinese regime, the world is willing to deal with it in political, institutional, cultural and economic terms. Why should the Olympic Games be something different?” An op-ed in the Sydney Morning Herald argued that China doesn’t “deserve” to host: “There is no point in isolating China. It makes sense to trade with China and to facilitate its entry into the World Trade Organisation. But there is no reason to indulge the Beijing regime.” The Herald’s China correspondent offered a pragmatic argument in favor of Beijing’s bid:

[G]iving the Games to Beijing will probably do nothing to advance human rights in China. The authorities will be keen to keep a lid on dissent before the Games. But not granting Beijing the Games is unlikely to help promote greater human rights in the short or long term. … Passing over Beijing may lead to a hardening of China’s attitudes in its relations with the West. It would certainly lead to a binge of nationalistic outrage with unforeseeable results. In a worst-case scenario it may encourage China’s leadership to speed up its plans to forcibly “reunify” Taiwan with the motherland.

An op-ed in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post struck a similar note of alarm:

By stirring up the public’s patriotic feelings to a frenzy over the Olympic bid, the Government plans to distract people’s attention from the problems of rampant corruption, a rising unemployment rate and a lack of confidence in the Communist Party. In the scenario that China loses the bid, the government-controlled media will direct the blame onto the United States and Western countries and once again incite anti-Western sentiments. With an almost paranoid mentality that the whole world is against them over their Olympic bid, the Chinese Government will be more militarily aggressive and refuse to co-operate with the West on such important issues as nuclear non-proliferation and regional peace.

The Toronto Sun pointed out that if the IOC continues the Europe-America-Asia host-city rotation it has followed since 1980, “Toronto will be celebrating this Friday.” The paper called for the rotation to be formalized to eliminate the “geo-politics” that “have neighbouring countries undercutting what would often be allies in the hopes of winning future Games. For example, the Americans are working against Toronto’s bid for 2008 because they want it in 2012.”

African unity? This week’s meeting of the Organisation of African Unity in Lusaka, Zambia, will be the group’s last. Following the gathering, it will reorganize itself as the African Union, modeled on the European Union, with its own parliament, central bank, and a single currency. (For a primer on the AU, see this BBC “Q&A.”) The Globe and Mail noted, “Ambitions driving the union far outstrip the material resources available to make it work.” Britain’s Independent said, “Sceptics predict that in a continent ravaged by war and disease, the new body will be at best another pompous talking shop and at worst an opportunity to squander even more money on luxury hotels and limousines.” The Financial Times dismissed the relaunch as a distraction that “cannot be the right priority for a continent in crisis.” Several papers reported that the murder last Friday of Paul Tembo, the Zambian president’s former campaign manager, hours before he was due to testify in an anti-corruption tribunal, had cast a shadow over the summit. An editorial in the Post of Zambia concluded:

We hope that the death of Tembo will bring to our minds the systematic murder of many other Zambians through the negligence and blatant corruption of President Chiluba’s government which diverts resources from hospitals and essential medical requirements to MMD thugs and economic vandals.

The joys of summer: This year’s Wimbledon fortnight turned into the Wimbledon 15 days when rain forced the postponement of the men’s final until Monday. The Times offered a radical suggestion to prevent the “ridicule and anger now washing over the Centre Court”: a retractable roof. It thundered: “Thousands of spectators, many of whom come halfway round the world, find each year that their day is ruined by the weather. … Wimbledon prides itself on tradition, consistency and sporting ritual. The annual rite of rain is one it should now discard.” Tradition is also at the heart of Pamplona’s San Fermín festival, famous for its encierros, “the running of the bulls.” The Guardian reported that this year’s runs have been particularly dangerous because “crowds of drunken and disorientated foreigners stumbled along in front of some of the most frightening bulls ever to stampede down its streets.” The story claimed, “Drink, drugs and fights accounted for six times as many hospital admissions as the bulls in the first 24 hours of the eight-and-a-half day fiesta.” According to El Mundo, two Spaniards injured in Sunday’s encierro criticized the authorities for allowing participants to carry backpacks and video cameras, which restrict their movements. (El Mundo’s Web site provides an interactive guide to the San Fermín fiestas—check out the “Recomendaciones,” under “Escenas” at the top-right, for tips on how to avoid injury during the encierros. Click here to see videos of the encierros.)