• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 9:12pm

Verbruggen's vision a blast of fresh air

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 April, 2008, 12:00am

Lines are being drawn and demarcations etched right across the mainland during these uncertain, last 124 days before the opening ceremony of the 2008 Games, and an intoxicating mix of paranoia and passion is coursing through hot-blooded, Olympic veins.

As the People's Armed Police took a rest in the eye of the storm behind barriers to adjust helmets and straighten riot shields, and protesters from Istanbul to Lhasa, and London to Dar es Salaam gargled disinfectant to sooth their swollen larynxes so as to spit more fire when the torch passes by, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) made its last inspection visit to battered Beijing this week.

Evidently sick and tired of the media ignoring Beijing's amazing preparation work and instead calling on the IOC to cure all China's ills, chief Games inspector Hein Verbruggen wasted no time in scratching his battle line in the capital's substantial layer of construction dust.

Asked what he was going to do about the jailing of human-rights activist Hu Jia - who had been sent to jail only hours earlier - et al, he replied: 'It's not up to us to comment on this case. It's a matter of Chinese law. It's not a matter of sport, nor a matter for the IOC.'

He said, gesturing with open arms: 'There is a very thick, fat red line between sport and politics. You have in front of you a very stout defender that says the IOC should not be involved in politics,' the Coordination Commission chairman trumpeted. 'We are not a political organisation, so in spite of the criticism we get, I am not afraid to tell you we shall not speak out on political issues.'

Would the IOC, he asked rhetorically, be called upon to speak out on the political issues surrounding the bid cities for the 2016 Olympics?

'We would be obliged to speak out on Madrid's bid and Basque independence? Chicago and Guantanamo Bay and Iraq? Baku [capital of Azerbaijan] is a candidate - shall we discuss [territorial issues with] Armenia? No.'

'It would have been like going to Australia and saying [to Canberra] you first have to deal with the Aboriginal problem otherwise you can't have the Games.'

The Games will always be subjected to boycotts 'because you will always make one party unhappy', he said. 'I know everybody says sports and politics are the same. They are not.'

He admitted the IOC had to deal with politicians in host nations because governments forked out cash for the preparations, including security and infrastructure.

'We need each other. The IOC certainly needs politics. But that's something totally different than being involved in the politics of a country. We don't want to be involved in internal politics,' he said.

'Our president [Jacques Rogge] gives speeches to heads of state and the UN because he wants to put sports on the political agenda in all countries because we believe sports can do something good.'

Whether you're convinced or otherwise - and true sports fans should be applauding - his words were refreshing. His views were a change from the recent playground mudslinging by the mainland government and the sensationalising of the Tibet issue by much of the Western media, not to mention the mistakes the media have made along the way.

And what an alternative view, too, from the plethora of supercilious libertines ordering Beijing to fall into line.

More than one journalist who came along to take the IOC to task found the impulse to nod thoughtfully in agreement.

And as crass as the loud self-congratulations were, who can really chide the IOC delegation at the press conference for applauding their liege on such an ardent lecture?

However, this column was convinced earlier in the week that the 2008 Olympics should be separated from politics, though this conviction did not come about without an initial dose of paranoia.

Frances, a Bocog employee (her name has been changed for obvious reasons), had been repeatedly calling asking for a dinner meeting.

These requests started as a mystery that quickly turned to deep suspicion. Perhaps she wanted to ascertain which way the poisoned pen shall flow?

As it turned out, Frances had no intention of indulging in the black arts; she merely had an innocuous curiosity and a desire to establish a new friendship. 'Why are so many people attacking our country?' she asked over the meal.

She was told that many believe China to still be an oppressive police state that ruthlessly rules via the big stick and equally big lie; a nation that has not taken on its role as responsible international community stakeholder.

Plus, she was told by this column, she has a limited world view because her government censors all information. The bottom line for most at this time is more media freedom, she was told.

Frances, 36, took an age to articulate the crucial factors that govern her life as a 21st century citizen of modern China.

'I don't understand why foreigners cannot see why we Chinese are mostly satisfied with our government. When I was growing up in the 1980s, we had ration books. I remember my dad using them. I saw a car for the first time and thought I'd never have a car. Now I can buy one if I want. I've been overseas [to study], as have my parents. Many Chinese people are better off,' she said.

'But we have our concerns. You have to work hard to do well with so many people in one country. You are not going to give up good job security just because you don't like the government's policy.'

She lamented the tight security around the arrival of the torch, which prevented the masses from joining in the much-anticipated start to the summer carnival.

'All these people are using the Olympics to attack our government, and now it's interfering with the ordinary people. They can no longer enjoy this event.'

It might be time for stout defenders of politics-free sport to draw a line in the sand, unite and protest.

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