The Olympic Games of the Modern Era have given the world some of the most dramatic
stories of the human experience. During the Olympics, the eyes of the world tune
in on billions of televisions to witness the best athletes in the world meet in
a spirit of fair competition and camaraderie.
The Olympics are one
the few instances where citizens of the world can share a common experience that
doesn’t involve war or oppression. The modern Olympics were founded on the
goal “to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man
with the view to promoting a peaceful society….” The intention of
the founders of the modern Olympic was to have politics and even nationalism take
a back seat to the individual athletes and the spirit of human competition.
even in the first modern Olympics when the athletics marched into the stadiums
behind national flags and anthems, politics has played a part. The Olympics have
been host to government sponsored racism, political vengeance through boycotts,
demonstrations of nationalism by subjected people, terrorism, and individual protest.
As for the Beijing Olympics, politics have been at play since the International
Olympic Committee’s announcement in 2001 that China would host the 2008
Summer Olympics. There was an immediate outcry by many that China had no right
to play host with its dismal human rights record. Many felt that China had
deceived the Committee into thinking that human rights had improved since the
1989 Tenemen Square massacre and that China will put on “a show” while
the world is watching and then resort back to oppressive policies when the Games
are over. Many fear any act of political expression not to the liking of Chinese
leaders will be met with overwhelming force.
And yet, amid the waves of
anger and calls for reconsideration, many in the world community saw this as an
opportunity for China to move further out of its isolation and improve its treatment
of its citizens. They believe that the confluence of the world’s ambassadors
of sport and international media attention can only bring positive influences,
greater understanding, and an ease of tensions. Advocates for China’s hosting
the Olympics believe that the free exchange of ideas and political perspectives
can help raise the world’s understanding of China’s difficulties managing
over a billion and a half people and provide Chinese leaders with new ways of
governing diverse populations.
This activity will provide students with
a historical perspective of how politics have been present in the modern Olympics
and a chance to analyze the concerns and promises of China’s hosting the
2008 Summer Olympic Games. Students will develop information brochures advocating
a political course of action from a spectrum of options either supporting or protesting
Beijing’s hosting of the Games.
Activity One: Building a Timeline on Political Events during the Olympics
- Divide the class into small groups and distribute the student handout “Timeline
of Political Incidents at Past Olympic Games.” Assign each group one of
the events. Each event has a description of the major political incident. Remind
students that these are just brief descriptions and their research will turn up
more information and possibly other incidents.
- Review the instructions
with students and have each group create a timeline entry of the event on butcher
paper or entered on computer using timeline software, PowerPoint presentation,
or an Excel spreadsheet:
- Present each event to the class and display around
the room or on class website.
- Debriefing Questions:
- In what events
was there a “state sponsored” act of political expression, where a
country’s government made the political statement?
- In what events
was there political statements made by individuals or groups of individuals?
whether you believe any of these actions have a place in the Olympics?
Two: Politics and the Beijing Olympics
- Set up a discussion
on the issues surrounding the Beijing Olympics and the concerns over human rights
with the following warm-up activity:
Discuss the question: “Now
that China is hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics, what can participating countries
do to encourage the Chinese government to practice the Olympic Charter and Ideals
of respecting the dignity of the individual?”
down students ideas on the front board or overhead and discuss the pros and cons
of their suggestions.
- Have students work in small groups and review the
following documents they can access from the Internet or you can print for them
- After students have read the materials, have them brainstorm four different
lists of the 1) strengths and 2) weaknesses of Beijing hosting the Olympics and
what 3) opportunities and 4) threats might result from Beijing hosting the Olympics.
Make sure students look at all aspects of these topics – the future of the
Olympic Games, economic, diplomatic, and human rights issues.
students meet in small groups to discuss following questions.
is to be gained and lost by having a country with the human rights record of China
host the Olympics?
- What are the potential costs and benefits of having
China host the Olympics?
- Discuss whether China’s human rights record
should be an issue during the 2008 Beijing Olympics or should all politics be
kept out of the Olympics and Chinese human rights violations should be addressed
at a different time?
- If China’s human rights record is to be an
issue during the Olympics, what are some ways to go about doing this? What actions
can be taken to get China to improve its human rights record?
- Working in their groups students are to develop brochures that reflect one
of the possible actions listed below to address China’s human rights record.
You may assign these to each group or have them chosen randomly. Encourage students
to be creative in their layout of the brochures and to incorporate solid evidence
and examples in support of their ideas. Each brochure should address the following
- Identify your audience. For whom is the brochure intended?
the major points that support your position
- List the major concerns you
have about alternative courses of action
- Describe the call to action you
want your audience to take
- List the benefits you expect will result from
the actions you advocate.
- Keep politics out of the Olympics. Watch the Games on television, patronize
sponsors, and make contributions supporting the event. Address China’s human
rights violations through different avenues other than the Olympics.
- Support Beijing Olympics and encourage all countries to participate in hopes
the exposure to alternative ideas will improve China’s human rights record.
Explain how this event provides a unique opportunity to encourage positive change
- Support the Beijing Olympics but continue to express
concerns about China’s human rights policies through letters to leading
heads of state encouraging them to take this opportunity to put pressure on the
Chinese government to improve their human rights record.
the Beijing Olympics. Don’t attend, encourage your friends not to attend,
sponsor, or watch the Beijing Olympics on television. Write letters to existing
and potential sponsors and your local newspaper discouraging people from supporting
the Beijing Olympics.
- Openly protest in your home country against
people attending or watching the Beijing Olympics. Promote rallies and demonstrations
at key times (during major Olympic events) and key places (major sponsors’
headquarters, Olympic committee offices, and international governmental organizations).
Make sure they understand your issues of concern.
- Go to China
and participate in public protests against the Chinese government’s human
rights policies in front of the international media at Olympic venues.
- Hold a debate in class on whether more or less political pressure
should be placed on the Chinese government to improve their human rights record.
- As the time draws near to the opening of the Beijing Olympics, keep
a record of reports regarding the Chinese government’s actions toward Tibet
and other human rights issues. How is the Beijing government responding to internal
and external pressure toward reform? What actions (if any) is the international
community taking to apply pressure to China? Write an editorial or blog entry
on the topic of what individuals can do to address human rights in China during
the Olympic Games.