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December 06, 2001

Puzzling process
By Dan Patrick

The selection of Beijing as the host city for the 2008 Games summons up Olympic memories. But not of the Bob Beamon or Cathy Freeman variety. More along the lines of: Here we go again. Beijing's "victory" here has the taint of many other Olympic disasters, scandals and embarrassments.

Juan Antonio Samaranch has been IOC president for 21 years.
Like most massive quasi-political organizations, the International Olympic Committee serves many and answers to few. In other words, they do what they want and you'll like it. I accept this. But still, there are questions. Specifically, how do you get to be a host city? Is it for where you have been as a city or where you are going?

I don't think any of us likes where Beijing has been as a city. It was only 12 years ago that government tanks and soldiers moved into Tiananmen Square to squelch a student rally in support of democracy. The bloodbath that ensued was one of the most despicable events of the past century, but the IOC is obviously looking to the future. It's as if they gave China the prize and then said, "Now prove you deserve it." It's wrong.

China, it seems, has not really moved on from the horror of Tiananmen Square. The Chinese are gold medalists when it comes to executions and human-rights violations. And they can put on a good show, too. They swept the streets clean of homeless people and protesters prior to the IOC's visit during the bid process. They didn't do anything about those people and their needs and concerns. They just made them disappear.

Speaking of prizes, I get the feeling that Juan Antonio Samaranch is angling for a Nobel Peace Prize with this decision. Excuse me, this vote. I hope he doesn't have his heart set on it, though. The Chinese government, still so quaintly yet oppressively Communist, will probably not straighten up its act by 2008. Police states don't generally fall that easily. Hosting Olympics Games did little for the governing moral spirits of Berlin or Sarajevo.

Samaranch does not deserve a failing grade for his term, however. This last act is highly questionable and does little for his legacy, but the IOC flourished on his watch, for better or worse. The financial situation is light years away from the mess that had the IOC near bankruptcy after the Montreal games in 1976. The last TV deal with NBC was worth $3.5 billion alone.

He handled political controversies and boycotts involving South Africa, China-Taiwan, Yugoslavia and the boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles games by the Soviet Union. There has not been a boycott since, and Samaranch himself was instrumental in making sure both North and South Korea participated in 1988. And women have enjoyed an increase in Olympic participation and power under Samaranch's watch.

China, it seems, has not really moved on from the horror of Tiananmen Square.
Still, it seems he gave up a lot of the Olympic spirit in order to gain the financial security that would ensure the Games would go on. He is comfortable with powerful yet corrupt (and maybe evil) men.

Not surprising for a former high-ranking official in the government of General Francisco Franco, the Fascist Spanish dictator. To woo Eastern bloc countries to the 1988 Games, Samaranch ignored obvious doping problems and awarded the IOC's highest honors to Erik Honecker of East Germany and Nicolae Ceaucescu of Romania, both viciously savage leaders who led reigns of terror.

Samaranch had a dirty job to do. And he comes out of it dirty. But he also comes out of it successful. Like it or not, a price was paid for the Olympics to survive and Samaranch wrote the check.

In the end, I guess, the opportunity to pitch products to 1.3 billion Chinese citizens proved irresistible to Samaranch and his cronies (that answers my original question). So Beijing gets the 2008 Games.

Keeping track of the Chinese effort to clean up its act will be almost as interesting as watching the countries assemble their teams. And a lot more important.

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Juan Antonio Samaranch announces Beijing, China will host the 2008 Summer Olympics.
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