Friday, August 08, 2008

Olympic air

James Fallows of the Atlantic took this picture of Beijing's air (!) on August 7. His blog is a sympathetic chronicle of life in China.

Mostly I want to share this because I find it astonishing. Sports journalists are hard working writers whose beat features frequent, tough deadlines and sometimes repetitive story lines. To their corporate employers, they serve to promote the local corporate entertainment franchises. If the fanciful dramas offered by the big leagues sell the paper, sports journalism has done its job.

Sally Jenkins writes sports for the Washington Post. Over last weekend, she trashed the corporate storyline on the Beijing Olympics.

The Chinese government has labored for years to clear the air in Beijing, with some success. But in the meantime the Games themselves have become polluted. No governing body truly interested in peak physical performance, in helping athletes to be swifter, higher or stronger, would have awarded the Games to a venue in which you can see the poisons in the air. According to Greenpeace's local director, Lo Sze Ping: "Beijing's air quality is not up to what the world is expecting from an Olympic host city. The sports teams have reason to be concerned."

So what is this Olympics really about? It's about 12 major corporations and their panting ambitions to tap into China's 1.3 billion consumers, the world's third-largest economy. Understand this: The International Olympic Committee is nothing more than a puppet for its corporate "partners," without whom there would be no Games. These major sponsors pay the IOC's bills for staging the Olympics to the tune of $7 billion per cycle. Without them, and their designs on the China market, Beijing probably would not have won the right to host the Summer Games.

...The clouded air is just the most observable sign of the many unfulfilled promises since then. If the society has opened somewhat, there has also been a specific crackdown on dissidents as a direct result of the Olympics. Thousands of people have been rounded up and jailed for expressing dissent -- right now a man named Hu Jia is in a prison just outside Beijing for "inciting subversion" because he testified via Webcam before the European Union that the Chinese government wasn't living up to its Olympic commitments. Hu is ill with hepatitis B and undergoing "reform" in Chaobai prison, while his family is under constant surveillance. The crackdown continued this week with the jailing of several farmers, and efforts to censor the Olympic media. Amnesty International estimates that half a million people are being held without charges here.

...Most disgraceful of all is the fact that six of the 12 worldwide Olympic partners are American companies. This has to heart-sicken any patriot. These companies will reap the full exposure of the Summer Games, swathing themselves in the flag, and rationalizing that their business is helping uplift the Chinese people. Don't buy it -- or them. You should know exactly who they are: General Electric (which owns NBC), Coca-Cola, Visa, McDonald's, Kodak, and Johnson & Johnson.

That last bit is important. Yes, China is a closed, authoritarian society for dissidents. But a lot more Chinese think their country is on the right track than we in the U.S. think ours is. If the Beijing fest goes on with a grumbling undertone of dissonance, as seems likely, take it out on the corporate sponsors who pander to the worst of China, not the mass of Chinese people who just want a better life.

1 comment:

Nell said...

Another Saturday story! Definitely the best chance for truth telling of any day in the paper.

Jennings goes waaaay beyond the limits of respectable discourse. Impressive.

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