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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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August 15, 2008 3:13 PM

Humanitarian Canadian Olympic Relief Aid Being Mustered

Posted by Ron Judd

Canadian medal update, Day 8:

By popular demand, here is the list of summer sports powerhouses that have now won a medal while Canada -- which, for the record, could not even medal with a swimmer named Beavers in the pool last night -- continues to fight valiantly for Numero Uno:


We could mention that some of the Carpet Nations, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Karistan (OK, we made that last one up) are already celebrating their second medals. But that would be rude, so we shall not.

The truth is, we feel bad about this. So bad that we -- in a show of North American brotherhood, plus a blatant attempt to suck up and get a good hotel room for Vancouver 2010 -- would like to help. We're putting out the call to all former Olympic medalists, or just major contenders, to form a Canadian Olympic Reserve relief project and give Maple Leaf Nation a little boost in Beijing.

The Games are only half over. Surely there's time for, say, Greg Barton to come forth, catch the Amtrak to Vancouver, secure the necessary papers ("four-time medalist? You're in! Sign here.) and jet on over to Beijing before the flame goes out.

It is, literally, the least we could do. And that is our specialty.

So step on up, folks. It's for a good cause. And think of the upside: Put Canada on the board, and your own money will never be good at any Tim Horton's as long as you live.

Failing this, we have an alternate plan: Actually giving Canada some of our medals that are ... well, not needed anymore. Some of them might have a few Marion Jones crocodile tears on them, but a little Brasso will take that right out.

Stay tuned.

Comments | Category: Beijing 2008 Games , Canada , Olympic politics , Vancouver 2010 Games |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 30, 2008 9:00 AM

Beijing: Shades of Hitler's Olympics?

Posted by Ron Judd

As we reach the 100 days countdown to Beijing, a news roundup:

-- A group of Jewish leaders has called for a boycott of the Beijing Games, alleging that the Chinese government is using them as a public-relations screen to shroud blatant human-rights abuses -- just as Adolf Hitler did with the Berlin Games of 1936. In an AP story, Eric Gorski reports that 175 rabbis, seminary officials and other prominent Jewish leaders have signed a declaration urging Jews worldwide to boycott the Games because of China's human-rights record in general, and in Tibet in particular. The statement also accuses China's leadership of providing missiles to Iran and Syria, and maintaining a "friendship" with Hamas.

-- Speaking of human rights, or lack thereof: Nice to see that the Beijing torch procession has finally found a place it can travel in comfort, with none of those nasty protests: North Korea. Maybe they should've run the entire thing there.

-- And speaking of the torch: Nominated for Worst Assignment of the Century is the job of being a journalist assigned to cover the Olympic flame's historic ascent up Mount Everest. In a report here, journos complain of being virtually imprisoned in a remote camp far from Everest's base camp, allowed no freedom of movement and no access to climbers.

"If anything happens, we're supposed to miss it," one of them notes wryly.

No word, meanwhile, on whether the flame will use supplemental oxygen to get to the top. But the Chinese have divulged how they'll get it out of a high-tech lantern and into a full-blown, photographable flame in the almost non-existing oxygen on the summit: rocket fuel. No joke. The ascension of the flame to the top of the world will make history not only for its sheer stupidity, but for being the first time the Olympic flame has employed "missile technology," some Chinese officials are crowing.

Given that the nation's bad rep around the world is partly owing to its generous sharing of that very missile technology, you have to wonder: Who's handling PR for the Chinese government these days? The Rev. Jeremiah Wright? And why do we get the feeling that, before this is all over, we're going to have to dispatch Ed Viesturs to go over and rescue these guys?

Comments | Category: Beijing 2008 Games , Olympic politics , Past Olympics , Torch relay |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 27, 2008 11:30 AM

Olympic athletes: Political opinions welcome -- sort of

Posted by Ron Judd

The International Olympic Committee's Athlete's Commission met in Switzerland recently to ponder what to do about growing unrest -- some of it in the athlete's own ranks -- about the choice of China as an Olympics host. Read their conclusions here.

It's a thorny issue, and the athletes reaffirmed their colleagues rights to express opinions. But they also subtly reminded them that they have every right to remain silent. And they dropped in their own reference, just in case anyone forgot, to the IOC's "Rule 51," which says "propaganda or demonstrations" on political issues should be stifled during the Games, or at any official Olympic competition or function. (IOC President Jacques Rogge's recent interpretation of that rule with regard to Beijing can be found here.)

You can argue this issue either way. But we expect -- and frankly sort of hope -- that not every athlete will feel squashed by Rule 51's constraints. In the rule's 50-year history, it has often been ignored. Political expressions have been made on Olympic soil as sacred as the medal stand -- see Tommy Smith and John Carlos, Mexico City, 1968, for just one example -- and the Games have managed to keep from collapsing on themselves. The IOC should be wary about waving the rule around any more than it already has.

In fact, those who argue that Olympism should maintain a wall between competition and politics are ignoring the role of politics in the Games through history. Just one example: At the 1948 St. Moritz Winter Games -- the first to take place after World War II canceled the 1940 Olympics that were to be held in, of all places, Sapporo, Japan -- athletes from Japan and Germany were flat-out barred from competition. How's that for a separation of politics and sport? We could go on, but plenty of other examples of nation state activity and Olympic repercussions can be found through a cursory scan of the history books.

Perhaps IOC execs in Lausanne bemoaning the mixing of Olympic medals and international malaise need to sit for a spell and consider their own part in this drama: They can't cower forever behind the shroud of assertions that "Beijing submitted the best bid!" Because everyone knows the awarding of the Games to China in 2001 was, ipso facto, a political statement by the Olympic movement. Squinting through the resulting blowback and expecting athletes to honor that choice, and refrain from responding to it, is both naive and hypocritical.

Comments | Category: Beijing 2008 Games , International Olympic Committee , Olympic History , Olympic politics |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 24, 2008 5:00 PM

Is there a nest of "moral cowards" at Microsoft?

Posted by Ron Judd

OK, now it's getting serious.

An activist group, Dream for Darfur, is officially targeting Olympic sponsors, including Microsoft, for snuggling up to China, saying they've failed to do their part to end fighting in Sudan.

Dream for Darfur names 16 companies, including General Electric, Coca-Cola and Microsoft, accusing all of "moral cowardice" for pumping money into the Beijing 2008 Games with little regard for China's role in the ongoing conflict in Darfur. China is a major investor in Sudan, and buys most of Sudan's exported oil. The country is oft-criticized for failing to use its economic influence to curtail bloodshed in western Darfur, where the United Nations estimates that more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced.

Dream for Darfur is the group headed by actress Mia Farrow, giving it media clout it otherwise likely wouldn't possess. It released a 100-page study that Farrow told the Associated Press is a "report card grading the companies' responsibility on humanity and on the ability to think outside the box on profitability, and to open minds to social responsibility."

The report, which examined all corporate sponsors of the International Olympic Committee and the Beijing Games themselves, says Eastman Kodak, Adidas and McDonalds have take adequate action, and won't be targeted. Kodak and Adidas, for example, earned "B's" on the report card because they wrote to the UN about Darfur.

Microsoft earned a "D-minus," placing it in a group with Johnson & Johnson, Lenovo Corp., Samsung and Visa -- companies that responded to group queries, but have failed to take what the group considers adequate action. Earning big, fat "F's" were corporate sponsors that failed to even respond to the group, including Staples, Anheuser-Busch, mining company BHP Billiton Ltd., Volkswagen and UPS.

All the companies, Dream for Darfur alleges, are "silently complicit in the Darfur genocide, thereby tarnishing the 2008 Beijing Olympics and their own sponsorships by their association with China's role in the ultimate crime against humanity." (A footnote to that statement says the group considers sponsors to be "secondarily complicit.")

The group vowed to protest corporate headquarters and urge a television boycott of the Games in August. Demonstrations are planned at "F" earning companies: Coca-Cola HQ in Atlanta and in New York on Sunday, at Staples, Inc. in Boston on Sunday, the AP reports.

No word on protests of Microsoft. In the group's report, it concedes that two Microsoft executives met personally with Farrow in Redmond to address the issue. Subsequently, Microsoft, in a letter, detailed its many contributions to humanitarian relief efforts through the UN and other means, and ensured the group that the company's top leadership, including its board of directors, had carefully considered Microsoft's role in the Olympics.

In a separate, public statement issued last month, in the wake of the query, Microsoft noted that it sees the Olympics as a means to "transform global relationships, create unity and accelerate positive change in the world," and respects the IOC's decision to choose China as a host. The company notes that its role as a sponsor is as a software supplier and distributor of licensed Olympics coverage through its partnership with NBC. And then it states:

"Like people all around the world, we are shocked and horrified by the violence and human rights violations in Darfur. We commend Dream for Darfur and other organizations for their leadership in casting a spotlight on this atrocity and the need for immediate international resolution. Governments and international organizations -- the United Nations chief among them -- as well as humanitarian relief organizations -- will need to continue to work together locally and globally to address the problems in Sudan. Microsoft will continue to support these organizations in their mission through technology assistance and other resources."

That statement was branded "corporate doublespeak" in the report by Farrow's group -- apparently because it did not mention the Chinese role in Sudan specifically -- even though Microsoft was the only corporation to issue a public statement in response to questions about Darfur.

"While we appreciate the effort," Farrow's group says, "the resulting verbiage is a case study in playing it safe."

The group seemed careful to distinguish humanitarian work by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation -- which, it notes, contributed $5.3 million to refugee aid in Darfur and Chad -- from the company's separate corporate sponsorships.

"We continue to hope that Microsoft, because of its significant dealings with China and also because of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's interest in humanitarian issues, may yet emerge in a leadership role on this issue," the report states. "To date, however, Microsoft has done little."

Our take: Corporate boycott attempts may prove an effective tool for groups like Farrow's, whose cause is a just one. Good for her. Bring out the picket signs. But -- at the risk of sounding like a homer here -- let's get real. Does it not seem disingenuous to apply the "complicit" brand to a company like Microsoft, which not only sounds like it's on this groups side, but has been a relative model global citizen compared to other corporations on this group's hit list?

That's especially true when one considers the unparalleled work of the Gates Foundation, which is doing more, day to day, on a down-in-the-dirt level, to aid the world's neediest citizens than a thousand Mia Farrows could do in a lifetime.

Her group, to its credit, posts full responses from all the companies, including Microsoft, in its report. But little of that response -- and none from the Redmond company -- made it into wire-story summaries we've seen.

It illustrates the danger -- and potential irresponsibility -- of simplistic, "letter-grade" branding of corporations for their role in affairs as complex as these. Taking a public-relations sledgehammer to a major corporation that has the stones to publicly endorse your mission might turn the heads of those who fail to read the fine print. But it's not a very good way to effect change.

Comments | Category: Beijing 2008 Games , Olympic politics , Olympic sponsors |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 22, 2008 3:28 PM

At least one French guy will be at Beijing's Opening Ceremony

Posted by Ron Judd

If those rowdy demonstrations in Paris were any indication, a lot of French citizens aren't happy that the Olympics were handed to China.

But French business moguls? Not so much.

At least one of them, the head of "hypermarket" retail giant Carrefour, thinks the Chinese government is a perfectly fine organization, thank you very much (is this sounding familiar to any Americans?)

Yesterday, hoping to make nice after the Paris protests -- and threats of a retaliatory Chinese boycott of Carrefour's stores inside that country -- Carrefour planted a big smooch on the collective posterior of Chinese leadership, issuing not only a strong show of support for Beijing's Olympic effort, but also a condemnation of the radical idea of independence for Tibet.

The puckering up by Carrefour's CEO, Jose Luis Duran, came in a "special interview" granted to China's official news agency, Xinhua. He called any threatened boycotts of the Games or their ceremonies counterproductive, and vowed to be at the opening ceremony himself, according to Xinhua.

He also sought to squelch rumors that one or more major stockholders in Carrefour had donated money to the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan religious leader, calling those reports "groundless lies."

China's Ministry of Commerce fell over itself relishing this giant suckage, saying it "welcomed these actions."

"We hope foreign-funded companies, including Carrefour, can do their utmost to provide quality services for Chinese consumers," an MOC official said in a statement.

Quid pro quo, no?

Carrefour happens to own 112 stores on the Chinese mainland. The company, according to the Chinese government, does nearly 30 billion yuan (about $4.3 billion U.S.) in annual sales in China -- 95 percent from products of Chinese manufacture.

Chinese citizens had threatened a 17-day boycott of Carrefour's stores during May -- a time period designed to mirror the period of the Olympics -- after the street-level mayhem accompanying the Olympic torch's visit to Paris. Hundreds of protestors carring Chinese flags and photos of the late Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong rallied outside a Carrefour store in Wuhan, in central Hubei province, last week, the Associated Press reported. And discontent was spreading to other Chinese cities.

Carrefour is the world's second largest mega-retailer, trailing only Wal-Mart, which is making its own aggressive efforts to expand into the lucrative Chinese market. Anyone want to speculate on Wal-Mart's stance on Chinese occupation of Tibet?

Comments | Category: Beijing 2008 Games , Olympic politics |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine







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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.