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Asia and the Revised Politics in Sport

by Kyle Hargraves

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If the Winter Olympics, this year to be hosted by Beijing (04-20 Feb), were solely about sport then the only logistical issue would be in regard to Covid-19. However, from the one-day event until 684 BC, when the games were extended to three days, the games were always about more than the games otherwise it would have been deemed unnecessary to extended the games to five days during the fifth century BCE. Although kudos mattered uniforms didn’t matter on account of their absence. Athletic sports, along with wrestling and boxing, were undertaken ‘starkers’ but chariot racing was undertaken clothed; presumably on account of an increased risk of gravel rash1. The Americans boycotted the USSR Olympics in 1980 and Russia returned the compliment for LA in 1984. The justification this time, for the American boycott, is humanitarian; viz., the Uyghur’s in Xinjiang. The apparent moral ground here eclipses the increasing prominence in international sport for the region. Until 1964 the games were located in the West and in Europe more often than not. The envisaged Germany/Japan games of 1940 were overtaken by events. Since 1964 Asia has hosted the games in 1972 (Japan Winter) 1988, 2008, 2018 (South Korea Winter) and currently China (Winter).

The contemporary world engages in public diplomacy (indeed corporate diplomacy) as much, or arguably, more than formal diplomacy. Inasmuch as the economic order is orientating towards Asia (recall Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’ of 2014 which was anti-Asian) one ought to anticipate the changing nature of the Olympic bidding process. Allowing for the adage that ‘there is no such thing as bad publicity’2 or Wilde’s ‘it is preferable to be notorious than unknown’ the boycotts are not going to have any great effect if any effect at all.

Ultimately, for the boycotts to make sense, the countries concerned need to be certain that they are acting in a consistent manner. Countries who did not attend in 2008 were not pursued punitively by the Chinese; over the long term it didn’t matter3. There are more minorities in Yunnan, including Tibetans, than in Xinjiang and there is no history of ethnic issues in Yunnan4.

Returning to the politics, the entire moral ground of Carter’s objection to Russia’s involvement with Afghanistan was undermined by subsequent presidents until the current president and not everyone is happy about how that ended. It was the Americans that armed the Mujahideen and the rest, as we know, is history! Yet, to give credit for well-earned foot-work, George W. Bush invested the Dalai Lama with the Congressional Gold Medal of Honour just prior to the Beijing (2008) Olympics simultaneously assuring Beijing that he would attend the opening ceremony and that the USA would take part. The secretary-general of the United Nations, braving risks from Covid-19 has, in contrast to various countries (NZ included), accepted an invitation to attend the ceremony in a matter of days5.

For New Zealand and Australia diplomatic decisions based upon whom uncle Sam likes or dislikes in terms of the political systems and ethos of other countries or their economic competitiveness6 isn’t much of a criterion for the future; much less an act of independence of policy. Former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters, was entirely correct when he stated that the Five Eyes is not a bloc as much as one or two members might like the Five Eyes to act as a bloc (which was never its intention).

The principal disadvantages of hosting an Olympic event includes the costs related to security, buildings, and changes to domestic prices. The attractiveness of being a host in regard to tourism and foreign exchange may be short lived particularity when the opportunity costs of the initial bids and infrastructure planning are taken into account. Infrastructure costs have a habit of overrunning. As to security laws there is nothing so permanent as temporary legalisation for (perhaps) well-intentioned preparation for a specific event. Yet it was observed, post 1984, what was intended for the Olympics at LA was extended into the domestic sphere.

Despite the abolition of the Public Disorder Intelligence Division (PDID) prior to the games the LAPD’s intelligence-gathering unit, along with the militarisation of the police, has continued. To this end there is a good deal of dissension over discussions regarding security for the 2028 games in LA. From the 3rd paragraph of the link7 “Quite simply, the divided Council vote reveals there is no 2028 Olympic security plan that does not require the expansion of policing and surveillance”.

In the case of the PRC, the hosting of the 2022 Winter Olympics is an opportunity to promote economic development and tourism in Yanqing and Zhangjiakou, where the snow and ice events are to be located. Skiing in China is acquiring the status of golf and access to this region by the network of trains that can travel at 350km/hr is not a great inconvenience. It is becoming very much the case that whatever any first world country has by way of recreational facilities the PRC is acquiring (or has acquired) too8.

P.S. Four links appear as to the the issue of Uyggyrs livng in Xinjiang. The advice that I offer anyone is to take a look for one’s self (when the Covid-19 thing settles). Xinjiang is security-conscious but one is able to tiki-tour about as one pleases; such was my experience. Ürümqi (prounced Urumchi) is a nice place if a tad nippy in winter (-20C to -15C) but about 20C in Summer; summers are bit like those in Christchurch or Dunedin.

https://www.news.com.au/world/asia/they-sing-and-dance-aussie-retiree-trashes-claims-of-uighur-repression-in-chinese-propaganda/news-story/fd4749b7bbf0e26949f19a6d13c04083 http://www.szdaily.com/content/2021-05/07/content_24191860.htm https://jerry-grey2002.medium.com/a-comparison-who-to-believe-british-ex-cop-or-australian-university-drop-out-db4c606968e9 https://jerry-grey2002.medium.com/the-answer-to-why-media-is-always-wrong-about-xinjiang-58494b479cff 1 https://olympics.com/ioc/ancient-olympic-games/the-sports-events 2 attributed to various people; possibly Andrew Carnegie of Carnegie Steel 3 The fist link following the postscript reflects my experience of Xinjiang 4 one can observe a religion in the PRC but proselytising is not and will never be in season 5 CNA 14Jan22 6 anyone remember the Executive Order as to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (Jan. 2017) albeit North American Free Trade Agreement ought to be renewed periodically (e.g. each five years); an article in itself someday. 7 https://knock-la.com/los-angeles-olympics-city-council-coppsc-policing/ 8 The author lived in Asia (principally the PRC and Vietnam) for over a decade (and recalls the stadiums being constructed for 2008).

Kyle Hargraves is a Pukekohe local who has lived all over the world. He has studied extensively and has numerous degrees. His career spans many industries and he has enjoyed success as a top level executive. Kyle has always enjoyed writing and has followed the political scene with interest.

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elocal Digital Edition – March 2022 (#251)

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March 2022 (#251)

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