According to the Washington Post, President Bush “does not see the Olympics as a good opportunity to make political points . . .” He “has repeatedly made clear . . . that he is going to China as a sports fan.”
With all due respect, the president of the United States cannot be just another “sports fan.” I urge him to reconsider on both counts.
The father of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, believed that bringing “youth of all countries periodically together for amicable trials of muscular strength and agility” would overcome “the prejudices which now separate the different races . . . .”
As Shakespeare might have put it, Coubertin’s ideals are “more honored in the breach than the observance.” The Olympics have become inseparable from politics. Countries have used their status as Olympic hosts to secure international prestige and legitimacy—often for ill.
The most notorious example was the 1936 Berlin Games. They were a “coming-out party” for the Third Reich, which had already launched its war against its own Jewish population.
The United States not only ignored calls for a boycott of the Games—to our eternal disgrace, we bowed to Nazi pressure and replaced two Jewish sprinters, Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, with more acceptable Gentiles. While those Games are best-remembered for Jesse Owens’ one-man demolition of Nazi racial theories, his triumph was, sadly, an individual—not a national—one.
Now it is China’s turn. Like Nazi Germany, China craves the respect and prestige that goes with hosting the Games.
Also like them, China’s dismal human-rights record is well-documented. China has waged war on its non-Han minorities, especially Tibet, and it has treated its Han majority not much better: Forced abortions and sterilizations and persecution of Christians are only examples of this regime’s disdain for human dignity.
In this context, pretending that the Olympics transcend politics is nonsense. The only question is, will we repeat our mistakes of 1936? Will the unprecedented coverage—more than 200 hours of television—be one long infomercial for the Communist government?
My friend Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.) urged Bush not to go and legitimize the regime. I agreed with Wolf at the time, but at the same time I know that Bush, as a Christian, feels deeply and personally about human rights. So maybe he is going to do what Reagan did in his famous visit to the Soviet Union in 1988.
At a highly publicized speech at the newly reopened Danilov Monastery, President Reagan challenged the Soviet regime. He said, “We in our country share this hope for a new age of religious freedom in the Soviet Union. We share the hope that this monastery is . . . a symbol of a new policy of religious tolerance that will extend to all peoples of all faiths.” Reagan’s Soviet hosts were not pleased. But they—and the world—got the message, and the Iron Curtain came down.
President Bush has the same kind of courage Reagan had. He does not have to embarrass his Chinese hosts, or even make human rights the central issue of his visit: He simply has to speak out as president—not as a sports fan—in a public forum, and show the world that the U.S. is serious about human rights. Doing so would be a tremendous encouragement to the persecuted Christians in China.
Otherwise our commitment to human rights, like Coubertin’s ideals, will be honored in the breach, not the observance.
Chuck Colson’s daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.
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From BreakPoint, July 31, 2008, posted with permission of Prison Fellowship, www.breakpoint.org.