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RINGS OF IRE

Ever since the independence-seeking Irish boycotted the 1908 London Olympics, aggrieved parties have used the Games to stir one pot or another. But Beijing 2008 represents a pinnacle of protest—not surprising given China's human-rights abuses and provocative foreign policy. "What we saw surrounding the torch relay is indicative of what will happen through August," says Helen Lenskyj, a University of Toronto sociology professor and an expert on Olympic politics. Here's a sampling of the hot-button issues getting activists and athletes fired up.

THE CAUSE: Ending the genocide in Darfur

WHAT'S GOING ON:
China gives money and military aid to Sudan, a key oil supplier, despite harsh government policies in the Darfur region that have led to hundreds of thousands being killed and millions more driven from their homes. Activists want China to stop trading with the country or use its influence to broker a peace.

KEY GROUPS:

  • TEAM DARFUR

    • PROTEST TACTICS
      Athletes are asked to sign a pledge to raise awareness of the conflict by reaching out to teammates and world leaders.

    • STAR POWER
      Olympic softball player Jennie Finch and speed skater Joey Cheek headline efforts on behalf of 380 athletes from 62 countries.

    • OUTLOOK
      "These athletes will be questioned repeatedly by reporters," says Olympics expert Ed Hula, founder of aroundtherings.com. "They have the greatest opportunity of anyone to express themselves." Team Darfur has called for a 55-day cease-fire, starting Aug. 1.

  • DREAM FOR DARFUR

    • PROTEST TACTICS
      The group, which wants sponsors to push Beijing to stop supporting Sudan's regime, will stream a live broadcast from a refugee camp in Darfur (switchovertodarfur.org) during commercial breaks throughout the Games.

    • STAR POWER
      Mia Farrow is Dream's most vocal and visible member.

    • OUTLOOK
      Woody Allen's ex has already made headlines for the group by lashing out at Steven Spielberg in The Wall Street Journal. As a result, Spielberg resigned his post as artistic adviser of the Games' opening ceremonies.

  • AID STILL REQUIRED

    • PROTEST TACTICS
      Online public service ads from aidstillrequired.org encourage Americans to publicize the plight of refugees and donate money for schools and other projects.

    • STAR POWER
      A host of NBA players, including Team USA's Kobe Bryant, are involved.

    • OUTLOOK
      "The basketball players will be very high-profile during the Games," Hula says. But does a high Q rating equal high impact? Stay tuned.

  • STAND

    • PROTEST TACTICS
      The group is organizing rallies at the HQs of Olympic sponsors such as Visa, McDonald's and Coca-Cola.

    • STAR POWER
      Members of this student-led antigenocide group hail from 850 middle schools, high schools and colleges in 25 countries.

    • OUTLOOK
      A throng of protesters outside Mickey D's might embarrass corporate bigwigs but probably won't stop anyone who's jonesing for a Big Mac.


THE CAUSE: Ousting Myanmar's Military Regime

WHAT'S GOING ON:
China is a strong ally of the regime,providing arms and money. The military junta is responsible for human-rights violations in the country—which was devastated by a cyclone in May—including murder, rape and political imprisonment. Millions have left Myanmar (formerly Burma) over the past 20 years.

KEY GROUPS:

  • U.S. CAMPAIGN FOR BURMA

    • PROTEST TACTICS
      The group wants a million people to skip the Games on TV, shun products of Olympic sponsors and avoid Chinese-made souvenirs.

    • STAR POWER
      Jim Carrey taped a promo video that's up on YouTube. The group also produced a benefit CD featuring Paul McCartney and U2.

    • OUTLOOK
      "When celebs get involved, people think, This must be important," says Chris Shaw, author of Five Ring Circus: Myths and Realities of the Olympic Games. But don't expect much impact. Hoping that a million sports fans will switch off their TVs is wishful thinking at best.


THE CAUSE: Freedom for Tibet

WHAT'S GOING ON:
China has claimed sovereignty over Tibet for almost 60 years. Residents want political and cultural independence.

KEY GROUPS:

  • INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN FOR TIBET

    • PROTEST TACTICS
      Petitions are circulated through its Olympics-focused site, racefortibet.org.

    • STAR POWER
      Richard Gere chairs the ICT and speaks frequently for Tibetan independence.

    • OUTLOOK
      Gere is a visible celeb spokesperson for the cause, but he's been one for so long that his voice might get lost in the noise.

  • TIBETAN YOUTH CONGRESS

    • PROTEST TACTICS
      Members are asked to promote "the struggle for the total independence of Tibet, even at the cost of one's life."

    • STAR POWER
      No big names, but 30,000 Tibetan exiles belong to chapters in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

    • OUTLOOK
      Says Shaw: "Realistically, their ability to influence a worldwide audience against a giant like China is virtually impossible." In fact, Beijing has already deported a suspected group member.

  • SAD SMOKY MOUNTAINS PROJECT

    • PROTEST TACTICS
      On the Games' opening day, red flares will be ignited on mountains and buildings worldwide to symbolize the spilled blood in Tibet.

    • STAR POWER
      Italian mountain climber and artist Alberto Peruffo is the group's spokesperson.

    • OUTLOOK
      Outrage over deaths in Tibet won't matter if the Dalai Lama, the region's spiritual leader, appears to back the Chinese government. Says Hula: "If he shows up for the opening ceremonies, it will fly in the face of any protest."


THE CAUSE: Chinese Civil Rights

WHAT'S GOING ON:
The Chinese government suppresses free speech and freedom of religion, and accused criminals have been imprisoned without trial or legal counsel.

KEY GROUPS:

  • AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

    • PROTEST TACTICS
      The group is monitoring human rights in China, particularly during the lead-up to the Games.

    • STAR POWER
      There are some two million supporters in 150 countries, among them humanitarian-award recipient J-Lo.

    • OUTLOOK
      Despite appeals to world leaders to take a stand on Beijing's human-rights abuses, most—including George W. Bush—refuse to skip the opening ceremonies. (Exceptions: Germany's Angela Merkel and Canada's Stephen Harper.)

  • REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS

    • PROTEST TACTICS
      An online protest will take place on Aug. 8 in a virtual Beijing Olympic stadium at rsf.org.

    • STAR POWER
      The French organization for press freedom boasts 3,000 members, most of them nonjournalists.

    • OUTLOOK
      Members will have to do their best from home. Reps were denied entry to China in December as part the country's pre-Games security crackdown.


THE CAUSE: Asylum for Korean refugees

WHAT'S GOING ON:
Under international law, some 300,000 North Koreans who have fled to China are political refugees, but the Chinese government repatriates nearly 500 of them every week.

KEY GROUP:

  • JUSTICE FOR NORTH KOREA

    • PROTEST TACTICS
      A 444-day awareness crusade is being staged across Asia. Why 444? A play on words: The Chinese words for "four" and "death" have similar pronunciations.

    • STAR POWER
      The Seoul-based group's founder, Ji-Hye Park, protests each day outside the Chinese consulate.

    • OUTLOOK
      Says Shaw: "Considering all the other protests, this one will have no impact."


THE CAUSE: Worker's Rights

WHAT'S GOING ON:
A Mostly female labor force has been working 13 hours a day, six days a week, to produce Olympic merchandise. Some reports say these workers earn as little as $2 per day.

KEY GROUP:

  • PLAY FAIR

    • PROTEST TACTICS
      Letter-writing campaigns and an e-torch relay at catchtheflame.org discourage potential buyers of official Olympic merchandise.

    • STAR POWER
      Garment-worker support groups from nearly 40 countries have signed on.

    • OUTLOOK
      Nobody leaves the Olympics without a T-shirt. Or 12.


THE CAUSE: Democracy in China

WHAT'S GOING ON:
The Chinese people have lived under Communist rule since 1949.

KEY GROUP:

  • FREEDOM FIRST, OLYMPICS SECOND

    • PROTEST TACTICS
      Countries and sponsors are urged to boycott the Games.

    • STAR POWER
      More than a dozen groups made up of Chinese dissidents and other prodemocracy activists have joined the effort, including the Free China Movement and Dictator Watch.

    • OUTLOOK
      China has been a communist country for nearly 60 years. If that changes, it won't be because of this group's noble efforts.


THE CAUSE: Animal rights

WHAT'S GOING ON:
China's history of widespread animal abuse is well-known, most notably the skinning of exotic species to sustain a lucrative fur trade.

KEY GROUP:

  • PETA

    • PROTEST TACTICS
      Sexy "lettuce ladies" will promote vegetarianism near Olympic venues.

    • STAR POWER
      PETA is super celeb-friendly. Past lettuce ladies include Elizabeth Berkley and Pamela Anderson; they are not participating in Olympic festivities, however.

    • OUTLOOK
      "You just don't do that kind of thing in Beijing," Hula says. "The government may say, 'Let it go—they'll be gone in 17 days.' But I doubt it. Those lettuce-bra-wearing women are going to wind up in damp prison cells."