The Olympics’ slightly chillier Winter edition will be underway as you are reading this, and yet you would be forgiven for having forgotten to tune in. The usual round of offensively twee promotional media has been notably absent from our screens this time around and – whilst there is generally less interest in the Winter Olympics anyway – there is, obviously, something else going on here.
Advertisers are, in the mildest sense, hesitant to throw money behind the broadcasting of an event so mired in controversy that we’ve all but forgotten there’s actually going to be some sport on as well. The internment and forced steriliastion of the Uyghur Muslim population may, for some, take precedence over the results of the men’s Bobsleigh. Moreover, Figure Skating, whilst undeniably the most beautiful and graceful of distractions, will most likely have to be put on the backburner if the Covid cases continue to rise in a population so unprepared for another outbreak the results could be catastrophic for all involved.
There will, regrettably, be a few people missing from this year’s Olympics. The stars of every games are, of course, the diplomats, and I for one will be devastated not to see my favourite senior lawmakers in the stands. China seems to be a little more nonplussed, the Washington Chinese Embassy going so far as to tweet ‘no-one cares whether these people come or not’, which would make me feel a little hurt if I was a diplomat. Sarcasm aside the question to be asked is whether a more comprehensive boycott is applicable, particularly when it comes to allegations of genocide, up there with the worst allegations you can get. Also missing from the games will be tennis player Peng Shuai, who made and then suspiciously unmade some allegations against the former Chinese Vice Premier: according to the IOC she’s safe and sound, and due to meet the IOC President for dinner. But I haven’t seen her, so the jury’s still out. You’ll be glad to know, however, that everyone’s favourite Russian megalomaniac Putin will be in attendance, endeavouring to uphold the ‘spirit and principles of the Olympic charter’, whatever that means.
The age of Ping Pong diplomacy and Women’s Volleyball fever are well and truly over: China simply doesn’t care about utilising sports as a means to pursue soft power and make friends with everyone anymore. We all remember the 2008 opening ceremony, and what a triumph it was, it was hard not to feel inspired listening to that heartrending rendition of Ode to the Motherland sung by that impressive young performer. We also all remember the billions poured into Beijing’s infrastructure, and those picturesque blue skies that seemed to appear right before the games, providing a glorious backdrop for our viewing pleasure, which came from the closing of factories within the city. However, it would appear that this vision of a new world was in fact something of an illusion, those blue skies were quickly replaced by smog clouds from the swiftly reopened factories. It turns out that that little girl wasn’t even singing, but there because the real singer wasn’t photogenic enough, so now I don’t know what to believe.
Looking back at other previous Olympics, such as the Tokyo Games, with its paltry spectator count, or the Rio Games, with its swiftly abandoned and now overgrown stadiums, it’s hard to reconcile their promises of a better future with the reality we are facing. The clouds over Beijing are thicker than ever, and it is becoming more and more difficult to get into the spirit of the Olympics, as dear Putin would want us to, when there are atrocities being committed and national crises happening outside the stadium walls. Eyes are now on the athletes who, perhaps unfairly, have been thrust into the impossible position of representing their nations at a time when they are impossibly divided.
Image courtesy of Max Pixel