Sunday, April 06, 2008

Politics and Sport

The Olympic torch arrived in London this weekend, avoiding the chaos that is still T5 but unable to control the weather or our precious freedom of speech. Several things struck me as I listened to he news coverage at lunch time:
  • My initial feelings of disgust at the way this country was apparently pandering to the Chinese government over the disregard for human rights in Tibet has slowly been tempered by a feeling of deep sympathy for the athletes involved. Their entire lives over recent years have been geared to being able to compete in the Olympics. They didn't make the decision to award the games to China. Now they're being villified in some quarters for taking part. I thought of how proud I'd be if one of my children had been asked to carry that torch, and how difficult they would have found it to be in that situation, trapped between a rock and a hard place.
  • I listened to quotes from the Dalai Lama asking that people don't boycott the Games, but let the athletes get on with what they do best.
  • I heard Sir Steve Redgrave condemn in no uncertain terms the human rights abuses and beg our politicians and businesses to stand together against them. He pointe dout that sports boycotts of South Africa had little impact on Apartheid but economic sanctions brought it to an end. (with action by people in the country of course!)
  • I listened to Joanna Lumley begging our politicians and athletes to use every opportunity to make it clear to China that these abuses must stop.
  • I thought "what a difference to the state visit when Mr Blair was in power". Remember the closed off roads, the avoidance of crowds or protests at all costs. At least this time the protesters can make their point in full view of the world's TV and radio. Perhaps that message will get home to some in power in China - in a true democracy peaceful protest is not met by the threat of guns or imprisonment.
And then I thought "What am I doing about all this?" I'm not an athlete, and anyone who knows me knows I never was so refusing to take part in the games or the torch parade isn't really an option. I'm not a business woman doing deals in China so I can't withdraw from that. I'm not in Parliament, potentially choosing whether to sign some kind of concordat or trade treaty with the Chinese government so I can't refuse to do that.
I am, however, a member of Stockton Borough Council which has a cultural link with Beijing relating to our International Riverside Festival. So I can ask that the Leader of the Council makes it clear in conversations with the Chinese delegation that we don't approve of the human rights record of China. So too can all residents of Stockton borough and all who come and enjoy the Festival. I can write to the Chinese embassy and tell them what I think, and so can everyone who reads this page.

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