Tuesday, June 10, 2008

洛杉矶时报评论质疑北京奥运 Priorities are misplaced as China readies for Games

Bill Dwyre (LA Times Sports Columnist):

洛杉矶时报评论质疑北京奥运 Priorities are misplaced as China readies for Games

Resources that will be used to put country in international spotlight in August would be better spent on helping victims of massive earthquake. But no one is questioning letting the Games go on.

June 10, 2008

This will be a conflicted column, one of those with more questions than answers, more wishful thinking than reality.

The topic is China, and the question is why nobody, in light of recent developments, is questioning going ahead with the Beijing Olympics.

We are two months from the start, in the same country where 70,000 people died in a 7.9 earthquake May 12 and the lives of 200 times that many have been uprooted and changed forever. The best estimate is that 15 million people have lost their homes.

And we don't even seem to ponder the disconnect between these Olympics and those people in ongoing misery?

I understand the geography. The Sichuan province is nearly 1,000 miles from Beijing. I also understand flesh and blood, and that should have nothing to do with geography.

Are not the life-and-death needs of one's people a higher priority than the entertainment needs of a sports-doting world, or the international image-building desires of a government?

The resources that will be used to put China in the international spotlight for 17 days in August -- to a world that still mostly envisions this country as a man standing in front of a row of tanks in Tiananmen Square -- will be massive. Could they not be better used on food, shelter and medical supplies?

Are we too far down the line that we can't turn back in an emergency? Because a lot has been spent, does that mean that we have to spend a lot more? Can we scale this down from extravaganza to a big track meet? Does this mean that, if NBC buys it, we have to come?

Blaming television, of course, is somewhat unfair, but it always feels good.

A more constructive approach might be to ponder our priorities, especially as they have to do with sports. We seem to need major athletic competitions and showcases for our validation. The Lakers do that to us in Los Angeles. The Olympics do that to us, a hundredfold, as a country.

It pits our high jumpers and team-handballers and rowers and all the rest against the world's. If we win, it seems to validate our way of life, much like we feel a need right now to make Tinseltown better than Beantown.

The Olympics happens on the biggest stage. Most of us will succumb to that little teardrop in the corner of our eye when our gymnast from Des Moines stands on the top of the platform and they play the national anthem.

This is good and healthy. It is also overdone, now that world corporations have taken over the Olympics and turned simple warm-and-fuzzy into market-driven, brand-building warm-and-fuzzy.

Still, it is largely harmless until a larger issue emerges, such as a killer earthquake that cries out for use of every available penny.

Part of my feelings stem from the lessons of Hurricane Katrina.

In January, I went to New Orleans to write about a national college football championship game. The day before, I took a tour of some of the hurricane-damaged areas. It had been 29 months. Like most of us, it had been long gone from my mind. It had happened, I had read and watched in horror from afar, then assumed it would all be taken care of.

It hadn't been. Not even close.

The game that next night felt meaningless. It mostly proved that our priorities, in times of human need, are misplaced. Gobs of money were spent to showcase what we already knew, that the Big Ten was slow and overmatched again.

How much better might those gobs of money been spent, were it on Katrina relief?

The Olympics have been disrupted for political reasons -- examples are Jimmy Carter's 1980 boycott and Moscow's 1984 retort. But mostly we resist any departures from our sports-must-go-on mind-set. A president is assassinated and some push for sports to continue under some psychobabble rationalization that we need them as part of our healing.

Postponing or scaling down an Olympics is pie in the sky. I know that. Money drives the world, and lots of money has already been sunk into this. My only surprise is that a postponement or cancellation hasn't even made it into the conversation.

I also know another response to this -- and a reasonable one -- is that not holding the Olympics in China would be a further disaster to a country whose national psyche has already been hit with this huge earthquake.

Indeed, perhaps the spirit of a great and successful Beijing Olympics will, indeed, boost the spirits of Chinese people everywhere. Except possibly in the Sichuan province, where word of it may have to arrive by carrier pigeon because the electricity could still be problematic.

In two months, I will go to Beijing with The Times team. I will write about runners and jumpers and winners and losers, people who have trained hard, built their lives around these moments, and in many cases, overcome adversity.

I will also ponder how people are surviving in earthquake country, a place of real adversity.

On Aug. 8, they will hold a ceremony in a huge stadium, athletes from countries all over the world will march, somebody will light a torch over the stadium and somebody in a $5,000 suit will say, "Let the Games begin."

At that moment, billions of dollars will be in play.

The final question in this conflicted column then is: How much rice and drywall would that buy?

Bill Dwyre can be reached at bill.dwyre@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Dwyre, go to latimes.com/dwyre.

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