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.”