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European Press Review: Olympic Protests, Not Boycott, Needed

As China continues to suppress pro-Tibet protestors, journalists in Europe say a boycott would be fruitless. Instead, they're appealing to individual athletes to make political statements during the Games themselves.

Pro-Tibet protests

Pro-Tibet protests look set to continue

Observers in Europe have reacted with both cynicism and dismay as the Olympic flame makes its way across the globe, and government authorities do their best to silence critical voices on Tibet.

For many journalists, the fact that the Summer Games in Beijing are virtually assured of going ahead as planned reflects what they see as the general hypocrisy of the sporting event and the leadership of International Olympic Committee chairman Jacques Rogge.

Torch lighters

The Olympic ideals don't always reflect...

"Figures like Rogge probably wouldn't have a problem with staging the next Olympic Games in Sudan, North Korea or Saudi Arabia," wrote the conservative Vienna newspaper Die Presse. "The main thing is that organizers promise to improve the human rights situation. No one takes them at their word anyway."

But few are advocating a major boycott of the Games, as happened in Moscow in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1984. Indeed, some see hypocrisy on both sides.

"It's said that the lessons from the Nazi dictatorship [which staged the 1936 Summer Games] should not be forgotten, but history is not repeating itself," wrote Berlin's Tageszeitung newspaper. "The People's Republic of China is not the Third Reich, and the Chinese Communist Party is not the NSDAP. Moreover, Tibet is a country that didn't interest anyone in 1959, when an uprising against Chinese occupation was brutally suppressed."

"The Chinese can legitimately ask with what right the former colonial powers Great Britain and France were allowed to stage the Games, despite hardly treating the people they colonized with kid gloves," wrote the left-wing Budapest daily Nepszava. "If China was stripped of the Olympics, it would only strengthen the communist-nationalist hardliners and paralyze the slow, but still perceptible democratization of the country."

Conscience as a guide

Arrest of protestor

Protestors were arrested at the flame-lighting ceremony on March 24

Olympic functionaries often vacillate between claiming that sports and politics should not be mixed, and that the Olympic Games represent positive political ideals.

European pundits hold out little hope that the contradictions can be resolved by a threat from the world's large sporting nations to boycott the Beijing event.

But they are encouraging athletes to make critical statements about China's policies toward Tibet.

"It's a simple matter of civic courage, and athletes and sports functionaries should show it just like anyone else," wrote the online edition of the German weekly magazine Focus. "The statutes of the IOC may prohibit political statements during the Games. That places responsibly on older athletes who want to end their sporting careers after the Games anyway. By taking courageous actions and accepting the subsequent bans from competition, they could crown their careers by doing something for a worthy cause."

Another commentator praised one Olympic representative for having taken just such a political stand.

"There is already an exception, a woman chosen to carry the Olympic torch, who has refused to participate in the lie of the political Summer Games," wrote the Vienna newspaper Der Standard. "Thailand's Narisa Chakrabongse will not be receiving the Olympic flame in Bangkok in April. It is her message to Beijing."

Back to the roots?

Banner with handcuff logo

Once again the Games have been politicized

Some say that the only way to avoid the political controversies that seem to dog most Olympic host cities would be to stage all future Games in Greece.

"Only the establishment of a permanent facility for quadrennial use, built close to the original site in the Peloponnese and paid for by sponsors and broadcasters, will avoid the kind of repellent situation we are seeing now," wrote The Guardian in Britain.

Given the amounts of money at play in one of the world's highest-profile sporting events, that's extremely unlikely to happen.

And it's almost as far-fetched to believe that most countries would risk angering the leaders of the world's most populous and fastest growing nation by boycotting the showcase Games this summer in Beijing.

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