Net censorship leaves a crack in IOC mirror

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 August, 2008, 12:00am

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge told a newspaper in his native Belgium, De Standaard, the Olympic movement acts as a looking-glass, reflecting a host nation's image, culture, marvels - and flaws - to the world.

'The Games hold up a mirror and shows what is happening,' he said. 'We bring the media to the Games, and I firmly believe the Games have a positive effect.'

This column has over the past 994 days attempted to also act as a speculum, reflecting the big and small issues that have occurred as China prepared for the 29th Olympiad. We have offered vignettes of what has been happening in this beguiling, loveable and crazy Olympic city.

Following the mazy path that Beijing and other host cities have taken to prepare for what many described with what is now a terribly tired cliche, 'China's coming-out party', has been immensely stimulating, wonderful fun, too often frustrating and occasionally bizarre.

The Olympic correspondents have often felt like Alice Through The Looking Glass - walking through the mirror to which Rogge refers, and into a baffling Olympic world. There, the IOC and its often lofty but admirable ideals, meet the propaganda machine of China's Communist-cum-capitalist-Party and its nebulous 'One World, One Dream' mantra, that illusionary goal decorated with Chinese characteristics.

Games organiser Bocog has rather enjoyed peering at its reflection, and has rightly admired itself for its remarkable achievements over the past seven years. Tugging the Olympic cities and their citizens up by the bootstraps to make them fit and proper to receive their international guests has been no easy task.

And writing this final countdown column under a blissful, real blue sky in the magnificent Main Press Centre appears to prove the frantic work to clean the air is paying off - one of many miracles witnessed over the past 21/2 years and more. Of course, there have been blemishes along the way.

Understandably, from an ingrained habit, our hosts have always been keen to highlight the good, and simply close their eyes and shake their heads at the bad.

And the IOC and Bocog have both been seen to be guilty of gross naivety for repeatedly requesting the watching world to leave politics out of the 2008 Olympic mix. How could the 29th Olympiad, staged in the world's most populous yet least understood country that is fast becoming an economic superpower, ever be politics free? Bocog has completed many miracles and held true to many pledges. But surely it knew it could not keep the dreaded 'P' word out of the Olympic lexicon.

This week, the very mirror the IOC uses to allow the world to inspect a nation has been turned on the Olympic movement.

The obligatory, near-ritual pre-competition crisis came in the form of internet censorship. Quite how the chairman of the press commission, Kevan Gosper, was not aware the promises and declarations of unfettered internet access for foreign journalists were about to be broken, remains a mystery.

Rogge last night said he didn't agree with internet restrictions but still failed to explain why he and other key members of the Olympic movement managed to mislead the world over media censorship for so long.

The burning question is: what was actually said and agreed upon at the many, many discussions the IOC co-ordinating commission had with Bocog on this highly contentious issue?

Or is it simply a case that the Chinese authorities have been calling the shots ever since the democratic IOC members voted to give Beijing the right to host the Games?

Whatever the outcome, the IOC will come out the other end of the 2008 Games with that other worn bromide - a 'win-win' situation. If more political storms erupt, the IOC can claim innocence by reminding all it is a movement that facilitates grand sporting occasions, nothing more.

If the Games are a resounding success - and there is no reason to suggest otherwise - and the IOC's mirror helps a nation improve in the eyes of the watching world, Rogge et al can claim rightful recognition.

History suggests the Olympics are a force for change and leave positive legacies, more than they are a disaster and leave none.

Moreover, arriving at the Olympic Green yesterday to write this final sketch and seeing the Bird's Nest and Water Cube basking in their glory under the summer sun, ensured even the most ardent critic would be forced to admire the enthusiasm of the crowds milling around the sparkling venues.

Entire families from across the vast nation are here, most without tickets, to show their support.

Across the city and on the shores of Qingdao, down the coast to Sha Tin in Hong Kong, athletes are arriving to compete against each other in the ultimate test of human endurance and skill.

They will do so amid sublime complexes and sporting arenas. They will be supported by the millions of Chinese and their welcoming hospitality and enthusiasm for this long-awaited moment to impress the world, and be seen as a valued member of it.

For the first time a nervous administration will be forced to accept criticism on the chin from 21,000 foreign journalists, just as the organisers of Athens, Sydney and London have, and will.

Moreover, many of the misunderstandings, misconceptions, anomalies, and falsehoods about this complex, soon-to-be Olympic medal-winning nation will be allayed.

That sport can provide this platform of unprecedented openness in a fast-changing country is a triumph that arguably cannot be achieved any other way.

There has been one truism that has stood the test of the last 1,000 days. And that is, the mirror doesn't lie.

No turning back

The sports extravaganza will be a real eye-opener for many

The number of foreign journalists, in thousands, who will be covering the Games: 21