February 23, 2022

Beijing Olympics

Beijing doused its Olympic flame on Sunday night, closing a Games that will be remembered for the extremes of its anti-COVID-19 measures and outrage over the doping scandal that enveloped 15-year-old Russian skating sensation Kamila Valieva… They were also stalked by politics, with several countries staging a diplomatic boycott over China's human rights record, and the spectre of invasion of Ukraine by Russia, with President Vladimir Putin attending the opening ceremony in a show of solidarity against the West with Xi.” Reuters

Both sides are critical of the Chinese and Russian governments, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the current state of global figure skating:

“US corporations are starting to awaken to the impossible situation that they’ve put themselves in. By investing in Xi’s China, they’ve signed up for Beijing’s rules, which exist to prop up the regime at all costs. Their bets on China expose these companies to intellectual property theft, reputational harm and physical threats to their employees…

“Thus NBC News, which broadcasted the Games, tried to walk a fine line between ignoring the regime’s human rights abuses and criticizing the communists too harshly. The conundrum resulted in some truly cringe-worthy discussions, including one panel in which one China ‘expert’ sanitized his commentary and made pains to present the CCP’s point of view of the Uighur genocide. If the Beijing Winter Games teach us anything, it’s that doing business with communist China will always, in the end, require sacrificing the principles of basic human freedoms, property rights and democratic accountability that the free world holds dear.”
Mary Kissel, Spectator World

“There were some moments of true Olympic spirit. Finnish cross-country skiing champion Iivo Niskanen waited at the finish line to cheer on the last to cross, Colombia’s Carlos Andres Quintana. Snowboarders from around the world lined up to cheer and hug five-time Olympian Shaun White after his final run. Many rooted for Donovan Carrillo, Mexico’s first male figure skater in 30 years, who trains at a mall ice rink. And American Erin Jackson became the first Black woman to win an individual speedskating medal when she earned gold in the 500-meter event…

“But these uplifting moments were overshadowed by unsavory conduct and scandal… The lasting image of the Beijing 2022 Olympics will be 15-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva collapsing into tears after a disastrous free skate that put her out of medal contention. Ms. Valieva tested positive for a banned substance, yet the Court of Arbitration for Sport allowed her to skate anyway. Her final performance was a painful display of a teenager’s mental breakdown. She fell twice and had mistakes throughout. The whole ordeal looked a lot like child abuse, complete with her coach berating her as she sobbed. The Olympics have long been filled with controversy, but this marked another low point. It cemented Beijing 2022 as the ‘scandal Olympics.’”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

Her collapse within herself and onto the ice seemed almost sacrificial, a reality correction to the entire world’s denial of the elephant in the room. Valieva’s tragic performance provided an essential counterbalance to the manufactured joy of a cynical state. Her unraveling echoed China’s self-delusion that human life can be controlled, her cry of defeat a reflection of the suffering beyond Beijing’s bubble. In the Closing Ceremonies, not even a constellation of snowflakes to the tune of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ could obscure the black hole of China’s heart.”
Kathleen Parker, Washington Post

“Discussions involving Valieva keep spurring the comment that, ‘It’s not her fault.’ Yes, that’s precisely the point, and that’s why the Russian Olympic team used her in this manner. The people who run her career know that the IOC and the world will feel hesitant to judge and rebuke a tearful, angelic-faced 15-year-old girl. That’s why they’re attempting to cheat by using a 15-year-old girl! If this were an adult man, all of us would be reacting much less sympathetically. Our inner conflict about punishing a teenage girl for the actions of others is what the Russians were counting on; they figured that gave them a better chance of getting away with it.”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“In many ways sport’s governing bodies have been grappling for years with what much of the wider world is only now encountering: the challenge of corralling and constraining a power that shows no inclination of playing by the same basic rules and norms as everyone else. From the Sochi Olympics to the 2018 football World Cup to the massive state-sponsored Olympic doping programme that Russia continues to insist never existed, sport is a useful prototype for the rules of engagement that the Putin regime is now so dramatically bringing to the battlefield…

“There are two ways, I suppose, of looking at all this. Perhaps the impotence and indecision of western powers in the face of Russian aggression is an indication that standing up to Putin’s gangster state is easier said than done. If NATO cannot agree on an effective way of curbing Putin, then is it really fair to expect as much of the IOC president, Thomas Bach, a 68-year-old former fencer? Yet by the same token sport is irredeemably part of the greater enterprise here, the little unpunished broken windows that have persuaded the Kremlin the whole compound is up for grabs. ​​In another saner world it would be appropriate to ask whether any of this is still fit for purpose.”
Jonathan Liew, The Guardian

The Games can be fixed, or at least repaired, with three basic reforms… First, establish term limits on the International Olympic Committee. Enough of these 30-year reigns by profiteering, autocrat-hugging barons like President Thomas Bach… Second, establish a truth commission — an independent body to weigh rule changes that would make the IOC athlete-centered, and based on the underlying reality that elite Olympic-level competition does not build up young bodies but rather is a fundamentally unhealthily striving enterprise that breaks them down, physically and psychically…

“Third, undertake a total reconstruction of the anti-doping effort and wholesale reconsideration of the banned list, with a compassionate eye on the health dilemma. Replace the World Anti-Doping Agency with an entirely independent body made up strictly of unencumbered bioethicists, scientists, trainers and, of course, athletes — people who are not entangled in the IOC’s power-prestige struggles.”
Sally Jenkins, Washington Post

In addition, “The International Skating Union could raise the minimum age for top athletes to 17. ‘I was very, very disturbed yesterday when I watched the competition on TV,’ International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said Friday. “That pressure is beyond my imagination, and in particular for a girl of 15 years, to see her struggling on the ice.” Yeah? Well, let’s see some real reforms. Whatever that was in Beijing this month, it wasn’t what used to be known as the Olympic spirit… the world should mark the moment by agreeing never to do this again.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“If the Valieva saga has shown us anything, it’s that, when it comes to international sport, everything is always somebody else’s fault. The Olympics are organized by the IOC, which in turn delegates responsibilities to other organizations: the international sporting federations that coordinate and oversee individual sports around the world; the national Olympic committees that oversee each nation’s entries into the Games; the national sporting federations, such as U.S. Ski & Snowboard, that supervise a sport within national boundaries. The Olympics wouldn’t happen if the IOC didn’t delegate. At the same time, a lack of centralized control makes it easy to pass the buck…

“The only people who are served by these rules are the people who run international sport—a man like Thomas Bach, who can cite an alphabet soup of international compacts and subsidiary organizations as proof that the Valieva tragedy isn’t his fault. They are served insofar as they get to take credit for the good things about the Olympics while deflecting blame for all of the bad things. The rules allow them to keep pretending that the Olympics can change the world, while insisting that the world cannot change the Olympics.”
Justin Peters, Slate

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