509 days to go

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 March, 2007, 12:00am

When the scribes were tasked with putting the Olympic Charter to paper, one can imagine they let out all-knowing, deep sighs of scepticism as they wrote down paragraph two of the 'Fundamental Principles'.

'Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles,' expounds the opening of the charter that defines the Olympic Ideal.

It also outlines how, through noble competition, humanity can better itself by setting aside all political differences and unite through sport. Such ideals, as noble and necessary as they are, add up to little more than fantasy in this turbulent modern world.

It's a despicable shame that tempestuous international relations regularly blight the sporting sphere. But it's a sad fact of Olympic life.

From the Nazi Olympics in Berlin 1936 to the 1972 Munich massacre and 1980s cold war boycotts of Moscow and Los Angeles, murky, complex and often violent politics have dominated the games.

This given, the International Olympic Committee must have known that China's hosting of the 2008 Games would attract controversial politics and an entourage of protesters. Gaggles of 'Free Tibet' students, human rights groups and environmentalists are queuing up to vent their spleen on Beijing.

But for Eric Reeves, a professor of English language and literature at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, it's 'the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles' that raises his hackles as the Beijing Olympics draw ever closer.

Reeves has spent the past eight years working full-time as a Sudan researcher and analyst, publishing extensively in the US and internationally about the country - and more recently, about the protracted war in the deserts of Darfur.

And he's declaring that China is a bad example with few ethical principles - and labelling the Beijing Games as the 'Genocide Olympics'.

Ouch: tough words, if not a tad sensational.

But Reeves claims - and he is not alone - that China is in part responsible for the atrocities in Darfur because it is more concerned with buttering up the Khartoum government and tapping the country's energy resources than helping to influence peace and save lives.

China, Sudan's biggest oil export market by far, abstained on an August 2006 United Nations vote to send in peacekeeping troops, though it since has, according to state media, pressed Khartoum on accepting the UN mission.

During his African tour last month, President Hu Jintao reportedly did not lean on his Sudanese counterpart, President Omar al-Beshir, to accept the UN's peacekeeping troops. Instead, he promised to slice US$80 million off Sudan's debt mountain and build a new railway line to Red Sea ports and a presidential palace. There's also China's arms sales to Sudan to ponder, if you so wish.

Armed with so much ammunition, Reeves has announced he is about to ramp up a campaign to 'shame China' for 'refusing' to help prevent the atrocities - those that make international headlines for stories about a troubled region that few really understand.

'It is time for China to recognise that it cannot be a legitimate host of the 2008 Olympic Games while remaining complicit in Darfur's genocidal destruction,' argues Reeves, who is to start a viral e-mail campaign to 'hit every computer in the world'.

He told this column China must use its 'enormous leverage with Khartoum' to secure consent for the deployment of international forces fully capable of protecting civilians.

However, there has been a marked change in Beijing towards Khartoum lately. In what was seen as move to pressure Khartoum into accepting peacekeepers in Darfur, China removed Sudan from its list of countries for which it will provide financial incentives to Chinese companies seeking to invest. And Beijing sent a peacekeeping force in January to replace an earlier team helping people in the south.

But by refusing to vote on last year's UN resolution, many view this as merely a facade - all part of Beijing's Olympic makeover to make China appear all sweetness and light for next year.

Reeves, instead, wants concrete action, though he says a Moscow-style boycott would be counter-productive and divisive. He wants China to experience a palatable fear of losing a large amount of face, and be forced into behaving like the influential and responsible international player it perpetually claims it wants to be.

'If China refuses [to put further pressure on Sudan over Darfur], Beijing must face an unprecedented, unwavering, unstoppable campaign of shame - one that will attach an unbearable opprobrium to genocidal complicity,' he says.

Should Reeves' campaign gain momentum and headlines, the officials behind the high government walls of Zhongnanhai might well react.

They, and the 1.3 billion subjects they govern, desperately want Beijing 2008 to compare with Rome 1960, Tokyo 1964 and Seoul 1988 - those showcase games for nations that opened up their doors to the world and with it their political systems. And the proud, ordinary Chinese dearly want to be seen as upholding paragraph two of the 'Fundamental Principles' as they celebrate the nobleness of sport.