Public First Program


Shane Elson


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+61-3-5134 8556

+61-4-1349 7828

August 2007 # 2

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Back to Editorials 2007

Run to Paradise

You might have heard or seen the news reports about the way in which Olympic athletes will be gagged when it comes to talking about China’s human rights and other abuses while they’re in Beijing next year. However the head of the Australian Olympic Committee, John Coates, denied that this was the case. He told the eager media that the athletes were free to discuss anything they wanted. He told them, “I imagine you’ll all be very keen to obtain the views of our athletes and if they want to proffer those, so be it. They’re free to speak.” But this was not all he had to say. 

He was quoted telling the gathered media scrum, “… what we will be saying to them is that it’s best to concentrate on your competitions and any major issues you leave them to me as spokesman for the team”. So there we have it. John Coates will become Australia’s official spokesperson on China’s appalling record of human rights atrocities. Don’t hold your breath. 

The Olympic Games has become a multibillion dollar exercise in ego, pomposity and geopolitics. The Olympics is now a “movement” according to its official website and propaganda. However I suspect the real “movement” they’re talking about is the movement of money from local communities to the pockets of the elite clique that run the show and their friends in the multinational construction companies that make a motza from government funding of the Games. 

For instance, the 2004 Greek games cost the locals well over $US3 billion just to accommodate the athletes, support staff and Olympic ‘guests’, that is, the 747 loads of freeloaders and hangers on. This is without the construction costs of the sporting venues and the upgrades of related facilities so that the rich and privileged could move about unhindered by the local ‘discomforts’. 

The total cost to the Greek economy has been estimated at somewhere in the order of five percent of annual gross domestic product or about $US12 billion. That is, the people of Greece had five percent of the value of their entire labour output in 2004 wiped out of existence because of the ‘accommodations’ that had to be made so the likes of John Coates could live the lifestyle they have become accustomed to. 

What a hoot the Sydney 2000 Games were. Fireworks, Cathy Freeman, Roy and HG, the Bridge, the Opera House. Stunning! Yet, it transpires, that the new venues and facilities built to hold a couple of days worth of sporting events are costing the New South Wales and Federal governments, that is the tax payers of NSW and the rest of us, about $40 million a year to keep open. And it’s expected that it will take another 10 years, at a minimum, to get them to a break even point. 

Montreal took almost 30 years to pay off its debts and the poor old Spaniards had to fill in the huge rowing course they built because it cost too much to maintain. Pity the young Spanish rowers and canoeists who were promised a “world class” facility. Literally billions of dollars have flowed from the pockets of ordinary people into the vaults of the Olympic Movement and out of reach of those who were promised they had the most to gain. 

The Chinese government has pulled out all stoppers in the silos of cash they manage. It is estimated that upwards of $US30 billion will be forked out for the ‘privilege’ of hosting the games. However, according to the Russian news agency, RIA Novosti, this astronomical figure does not include the actual construction costs of the sporting venues, accommodation or other Olympic facilities. The $US30 billion is being spent on making Beijing an ‘acceptable’ city. In other words, the money that could be spent on long lasting, useful infrastructure like schools, general hospitals, water treatment and sewage upgrades, local streets and parks will be spent on ensuring that the John Coates’ of world will not have to endure the hardships of the millions of men and women who will, the day after they leave, once more find themselves unemployed and destitute. 

The money being spent on the extravagances of the Games will ensure the Movement is kept happy, well fed and watered and can sleep easy each night, cocooned in their six star, luxury accommodation while their limousines are polished and cleaned before picking them up the following day. 

The people who suffer most when the public purse is opened to such reverse largesse are usually the first ones forgotten as the rich and powerful jet set their way around the globe to attend the next ‘big thing’. Just like you and I might wait for the weekend footy match as the highlight of our sporting week, the rich also wait for the events that will keep them amused and entertained for a short time before the boredom of wealth sets back in. After all, they too need their diversions from the mundane routine of daily life. 

Can we expect our athletes to speak out? Of course not. The contracts they are forced to sign make them literal moral slaves to the Olympic Movement. Under the terms of the contract they are forbidden from taking part in any political rallies or protests and from speaking about issues to do with local politics, race or religion. However, in true Orwellian double speak, Mr. Coates says that Australian athletes are free to comment on whatever they like without fear of retribution. But, just for a moment, put yourself in the shoes of one of these people. 

If I was a highly skilled and talented athlete and all that I had worked for was getting a place on the starting blocks in Beijing, knowing that I might be the fastest person on the planet for a fleeting moment, I guess I would have to ask myself, is it really worth chucking that all away for some brief comment on something as inconvenient as human rights? 

Well, I’m sure our elite sports men and women must be sleeping easy at night knowing that John Coates will be able to represent their hopes and aspirations as potential leaders of the future, when he stands up and declares that China’s inhumane treatment of its citizens is a disgrace. Will that happen? I don’t think so! 

However, not all is doom and gloom. The Olympic Movement is going to allow the athletes to set up blogs to tell us what it’s like for them in Beijing. My suggestion is that we respond to their blogs as quickly and as often as possible. As John Coates said, you can’t censor the internet. Here’s my plan. 

When the blogs go up, we respond to the athletes by firstly wishing them all success. We then ask them to consider, for instance, how many Tibetan athletes are competing this year. Perhaps we could suggest they ask them if any of their relatives were caught up in ‘the struggles’. Perhaps we could get them to ask their Chinese hosts if any Falun Gung or Christians are included in the Olympic volunteer staff. Maybe we could encourage them to wear a little black flag on their uniform to signify their solidarity with the thousands of academics, activists and ordinary people who have been imprisoned or murdered by their government. If that doesn’t work, I guess we can wait for John Coates to put out a press release. After all, he doesn’t appear bound and gagged by the same rules as his charges.

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