The Olympic Games of 2008 will be held in Beijing. According to the Guardian, International Olympic Committee member Hein Verbruggen, who chairs the Beijing co-ordination commission, has nothing but praise for the preparations that have been made so far. Minor problems such as spiraling air pollution caused by rapid economic growth will be addressed by the Beijing organizers in typical dictatorial fashion: the plan is to pull a million cars off the streets by next year. Mr. Verbruggen is appreciative: he doesn’t want the world’s athletes to breathe in dirty air. How touching.
Objections raised by human rights groups about issues like child labor or the treatment of political dissidents in China make much less impression on the IOC. After all, the Olympics is a sports event, which shouldn’t be tainted by concerns such as human rights. “We cannot allow those albeit important agendas to distract us from our primary position, which is of course to ensure that a successful Games is hosted,” Mr. Verbruggen said.
But about China’s exploitation of Tibet the IOC remains completely silent. The plan is to have the Olympic torch be carried to the summit of Mount Everest, and in order to do that the Chinese mean to build a road right up to Base Camp. Possibly build a hotel there as well, to accommodate the many tourists to be expected. They’ve already finished the railroad tracks for a train from Beijing to Lhasa, which transported more than 2 million Chinese migrant workers and tourists to Tibet, making Tibetans officially a minority in Lhasa. A similar influx of people in the region of Mount Everest will seriously undermine the ecosystem, said Prakash Sharma, director of Friends of the Earth Nepal, who talked to the Observer.
The times when it was a remarkable feat to climb the highest mountain on earth are long past. This spring alone, a record 514 climbers reached the summit, and the numbers are going to grow, according to the Nepal Mountaineering Association’s president, Ang Tsering Sherpa. However, the real reason for this road as well as a wider plan to pave 80 per cent of Tibet’s roads by 2010 is the exploitation of the vast mineral resources of the Tibetan Himalayas. Lu Yan, an engineer with the geological and minerals exploitation bureau in Tibet, estimates “that tapping minerals in the region – such as gold, copper, chromium, lead, zinc, iron and boron deposits – could be worth more than a trillion yuan (£65bn)” (from the Observer; about $132 billion).
Shouldn’t the Olympic Games boycott a country that systematically destroys and exploits an entire culture? A country that without provocation invaded a peaceful nation in the early 1950’s, euphemistically calling their illegal usurpation “Peaceful Liberation of Tibet”? A country that, since then, killed almost one and a half million people in Tibet, and demolished over six thousand religious buildings (see The Death of a Nation: Invasion of Tibet)?
A look at the list of members of the International Olympic Committee quickly shows why a boycott is unlikely. It looks like an old-boys-club list; out of the give-or-take 140 members, less than 20 are women; quite a few are “Royal Highnesses” both male and female; many are business administrators or lawyers, and they come across as an ordinary, normal bunch more concerned with competitive sports than with human rights.
Maybe I’m a sentimental fool who doesn’t want to accept the status quo. But I find the actions of the Chinese government extremely painful. I hate the fact that they’re destroying the Tibetan people and Tibetan culture, that they’re turning Mount Everest into a theme park like Disneyland. If I’d care about the Olympic Games at all, I’d boycott them…