Last rites for the Olympics
The Olympic Games are increasingly slipping into irrelevancy.
It is time. Someone needs finally to deliver last rites to the spent Olympic Games.
The Pope, I think, enjoys the requisite stature and gravitas to do it. He may, however, be reluctant to perform the Viaticum given that the Olympics are supposed to be about peace and harmony; a 16-day respite from the ugliness and acrimony that infects the globe for the remaining 349 days of the year.
That is why, of course, this year’s Winter Olympics were staged in a nation known – if memory serves – for unleashing the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to execute citizens it was meant to protect. Like me, you may recall that the PLA shot or jailed dozens of unarmed sons and daughters of the revolution – whose only “crime” was risking their lives to be heard and smearing paint on Chairman Mao’s portrait that overlooked Tiananmen Square.
I know. I know. My mistake; 1989 is in the past. It is, perhaps, in the not-so-distant past. Still, it is far enough from today for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Olympic athletes to remember only vaguely if at all.
Anyway, the ruling Chinese Communist Party has changed a lot since it ordered soldiers to kill Chinese kids riding bicycles.
My mistake – again.
Surely, the IOC was aware that Beijing has corralled millions of Muslim Uighurs and herded them into “counter-extremism centres” or “re-education centres” to disappear. Surely, the athletes who went to Beijing to participate in their idle pursuits were aware that China was found guilty on the eve of games of committing genocide by trying to erase Uighurs through forced birth control and sterilisation policies.
They knew but they did not care a whit. The need to compete for a shiny, genocide-drenched bauble in a bloated show of sham solidarity took precedence over the Uighurs’ fate – forgotten children, women and men who, by virtue of their faith, are being systematically persecuted and made extinct by the Olympic games’ ever-smiling “hosts”.
But you and I know that as far the “international community” is concerned, Muslims are perpetrators, not victims. So, it is not surprising that the repellent IOC and amnesiac Olympic athletes opted to go morally and ethically blind for more than two weeks and render themselves complicit in the wholesale suffering of innocents.
Too harsh? I do not think so.
On clichéd cue, sportswriters and columnists have dipped into the ready bag of hyperbole and superlatives to praise many Olympic athletes who travelled to Beijing as having been “brave”, “courageous” or showing “grace” while playing such ephemeral sports and glorified hobbies.
If any of these athletes possessed an ounce of real courage, real bravery, or real grace, they would have said “no”. No, they would not, by their presence in Beijing, reward the perpetrators. No, they would not, by their presence in Beijing, abandon their humanity in the face of such inhumanity. No, they would not, by their presence in Beijing, consider a trinket more valuable than human life.
By choosing to say “yes” and go to Beijing, these athletes sacrificed – another word sportswriters and columnists often employ to describe the inconsequential – much more than the time and energy it took to get there. They have sacrificed any claim to have done the right thing when confronted with the imperative to do it.
It should not have required a government or a politician outside of China to remind these Olympic athletes of the necessity to exercise this duty when the urgent moment and cruel circumstances demanded it.
The shameful fact that not one Olympic athlete – to my knowledge – said “no” ought to haunt each and every one of them long after the lustre of standing atop a podium with a medal fashioned in Beijing around their neck fades.
Turns out, that rather than being an antidote to the world’s ugliness and acrimony, these Olympic Games validated that ugliness and acrimony by providing glittery cover to a ruthless, authoritarian regime that, by any humane measure, has proven to be the antithesis of the all-too-malleable “Olympic spirit”.
While the silly IOC and Olympic athletes were busy snowboarding, bobsledding, skiing, skating or shooting a puck, the rest of us have been preoccupied with other, more pressing, matters of death and life.
Another calamitous war in Europe appears to be in the murderous offing and the inevitable human consequences of that war will be paid in full by other innocents. Meanwhile, a lethal virus continues to inflict discord, despair and death in some parts of the globe, as other countries emerge slowly and tentatively from its grip.
In this context, the Beijing Olympics were irrelevant and with each passing “Games”, the Olympic “movement” – fuelled, as it undeniably is, by avarice, gluttony and corruption – slips deeper into irrelevancy and disrepute.
These Olympics have also confirmed that the familiar rituals on display – the hymns, the flame, the pledges to fair play – are a good-looking, choreographed lie.
The 15-year-old Russian figure skater, Kamila Valieva, was the poster child of these sullied Olympics. Despite testing positive for a banned substance, she was allowed to skate. When Valieva faltered, she wept as any child would. Then, she was chided by her callous coaches who were more concerned with winning than shielding a girl from indelible harm.
In the merciful end, the closing ceremonies of Beijing’s Winter Olympics were a fitting coda to a charade lasting 16 days. As Beethoven’s Ode to Joy wafted across the Bird’s Nest arena and “ONE WORLD” was suspended in lights above, China’s appalling hypocrisy and near nauseating double-speak were made plain.
And yet the arena was, reportedly, filled with cheers, song and dance; a surreal celebration borne of wilful ignorance and shocking disregard of the state-sanctioned misery in their midst.
For these reasons, I refused to watch the flag-draped cavalcade of mendacity. Apparently, I was not alone in this regard. Whatever the cause or motivation, much of the world turned the TV off – to the chagrin, I suppose, of Beijing and the IOC.
I will not be watching the upcoming Olympics in Paris. They may be a little prettier, but they will be as bankrupt as the last.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.