Politically-charged Olympics putting China in spotlight

With 100 days to go, the battle has been lost to keep politics out of the Beijing Olympics.

Shimmering venues and billions spent to remake Beijing into a modern city have been dulled by pro-Tibet protests, chaos on the torch relay and an anti-Western backlash by angry Chinese who sense their coming-out party is being spoiled.

A year ago former International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch predicted Beijing would be the “best in Olympics history.” A few weeks ago his successor Jacques Rogge said the games were “in crisis.”

The shine is off, and the question is this: Can China’s communist government and the IOC return some luster by squeezing sports and goodwill back into the games? The Olympics have been visited by politics before – Berlin ’36, Mexico City ’68, Munich ’72 to name a few – but these are the most contentious since the boycotted 1980 Moscow Olympics.

“The Chinese leadership has a major international public relations problem on its hands,” said David L. Shambaugh, a political scientist and director of the China policy program at George Washington University.

“The Chinese government and citizenry are now involved in fighting a propaganda war with the West and the Western media in particular,” Shambaugh said. “This stance, taken together with hyper Chinese nationalism, has all the makings of a public relations disaster for the Olympic Games.”

There’s a rancorous atmosphere in Beijing these days.

Deadly riots in Tibet last month spurred anti-Chinese government protests in several cities of the torch relay, forcing the last-minute rerouting of many legs. In Pakistan, India and other countries, organizers shortened routes, tightened security, and turned the relay into invitation-only events that kept out the general public.”