If the Chinese (and the London 2012 National Olympics Committee) were hoping that the Olympic torch relay across London was to be a journey of harmony and peace, they will have been disappointed. Protesters, the weather, and Londoners’ apathy (did they really think that the participation of celebrities, the curse of Western life, was going to ensure a respectable turnout) have seen to that. Two things struck me reading the reports and watching the news. First the involvement of the Prime Minister, always one to avoid the difficult moment (but then as I have posted before he talks more about courage than showing it). Thus, according to Reuters,
Brown greeted the torch behind Downing Street’s closed steel gates in front of a vetted crowd as protesters scuffled with police outside and Beijing supporters waved Chinese flags and banged drums.
The Chinese will have felt well and truly at home.
And, secondly, the evident discomfort of Tessa Jowell, interviewed about the protests by the BBC,
“The welcome of the Olympic torch to London is not the same as condoning the human rights regime in China or condoning the treatment of Tibet.”
Only up to a point (and her face made that clear). China’s view is clear: the Games should not be politicized. Similarly, the IOC has vigorously defended its policy of non-involvement in politics. But as history has shown time after time, sport and politics are inextricably linked, and sport is used, directly and indirectly, for political purposes across the world. The Chinese are as guilty (if that is the right word) as anyone else, as the Beijing Olympics are being used by the Chinese themselves to demonstrate that the Chinese regime has changed.
The problem is that you cannot have it both ways, using sport for your own political agenda, and yet deny the same to those who do not share your views. Beijing Olympic torch relay spokesman Qu Yingpu let the mask slip, when he told the BBC, “This is not the right time, the right platform, for any people to voice their political views.” Yet as Tessa Jowell pointed out, lawful, peaceful protest is part of our democratic tradition. It is just that peple don’t like their parties being spoilt.