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Ron Judd's Olympics Insider

Ron Judd, an Olympics junkie and Seattle Times columnist who has covered Olympic sports since 1997, will use this space to serve up news and opinion on the Summer and Winter Games -- also inviting you to chime in on Planet Earth's biggest get-together.

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July 29, 2008 1:20 PM

More protests about Chinese human rights record as Games near

Posted by Ron Judd

Promise broken.

The two words sum up the charges by Amnesty International, which has released a new report on the status of human-rights abuses by the Chinese government. The group says the Chinese have violated the "core values" of the Olympic movement -- and are getting away with it.

Amnesty International notes that China promised to improve its human-rights record -- assurances made publicly at the time -- but hasn't followed through, and in many cases, has gotten worse.

The group charged the Chinese with rounding up thousands of activists to "clean up" Beijing before the Games begin, alleging that many have been arrested and sentenced to labor camps with no court trials.

Lesser abuses are already occurring as the world arrives for the Games, the group said. The Chinese, according to Amnesty and many media reports, already are violating pledges they made for the Games, such as allowing a free and full flow of information to journalists. Reporters arriving early in Beijing have found many Internet Web sites -- including that of Amnesty International, big surprise -- blocked by servers in the Media Center, where some 25,000 accredited journalists will be based.

Indeed, many Chinese rights abuses seem to fly firmly in the face of the Olympic charter, which sets out the Games as a means of encouraging peaceful brotherhood among nations. IOC members were sold a bill of goods by the Chinese when the Games were awarded seven years ago. But the time to do anything about it came and went a long time ago.

Chinese officials were so enthusiastic and thorough about every other aspect of their bid -- financing, facilities construction and the like -- that the Olympic Committee long ago lost any leverage to apply subtle political pressure to the Chinese government. And once that two-year-out window -- the last-ditch date to move the Games somewhere else -- passed, Chinese officials seem less and less concerned with what IOC members think about their public face.

The IOC and its multi-billion-dollar sponsors won't ever say this, but they obviously were keen to get the Games into the world's largest emerging consumer market. And IOC members of a more idealistic bent reportedly leaned heavy on the South Korean model for justifying picking China. The Olympics coming to that nation are widely credited with democratic reforms and an opening of the country to the world.

That storyline -- whether the Games have a hope of still doing the same for China -- will be a fascinating undercurrent to the entire Olympics, likely making this one to remember.

And it raises a question in the future: Should a nation's political behavior and human-rights record play a greater or lesser role in picking host nations? And if a nation's world standing is considered a factor, how would that bode for America's own bid -- Chicago's quest for the 2016 Summer Games?

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Blogroll and links The official International Olympic Committtee site, with news releases, a searchable Olympic medals database and other archival information. Olympic news site from one of the Games' primary sponsors.
NBC Olympics columnist Alan Abrahamson's column/blog
Chicago Tribune Olympic sports writer Philip Hersh's blog U.S. Olympic Committee's athlete web site. Ed and Sheila Hula's Olympic News Service (subscription). News service with audio, video and text coverage of Olympic sports, during and between Olympics. Free, but charges for live video feed subscriptions. Beijing Organizing Committee Web site. Vancouver Organizing Committee's 2010 Winter Games site. London 2012 Summer Games site. Sochi, Russia's 2014 Winter Games site. Candidate city Chicago's summer 2016 bid committee site.
Olympic swimmer Tara Kirk's highly entertaining WCSN blog
Bellevue Olympian Scott Macartney's WCSN alpine ski-racing blog
Other WCSN Olympic athlete blogs.