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Turn off Your TV: Why I Won't Watch the Beijing Olympics

by Laura Kaminker

I clearly remember learning that Beijing would host the 2008 Olympics and Paralympics - how stunned, disgusted, and betrayed I felt. With that, any lingering illusions I had about the International Olympics Committee were stripped away. Giving the Olympics to China was the final admission of how political, corrupt, and morally bankrupt the IOC is.In 1980, the United States and Canada boycotted the Moscow Olympics because of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Japan, West Germany, China, and a few other countries joined the boycott; other countries made protests statements but didn't boycott.

A boycott of the Olympics because of an invasion. Seems kind of quaint now, doesn't it?

No one wants to piss off China. No wants to risk losing that powerful trading partner and access to all those cheap goods. Doing business with China means "staying competitive" - that is, ignoring the labour, safety, consumer, and environmental standards your own country has built. And buying "Made In China" lets us all extend our standard of living. We buy artificially cheap products; we never count the true costs.

It's easy to sell cheap when you dump untreated contaminants into the environment, have no worker safety or health standards, and no quality control.

So the western world, with its massive corporate and consumer power, doesn't just stay out of China's way. We reward China with the Olympics.

It's wrong, and I don't want to be part of it.

Here, in no particular order, here is why I won't be watching the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Tibet: China's continuing occupation of this sovereign, peaceful nation. This morning we were greeted by photos of the bleeding faces of Buddhist monks. Not much more to say about that.

Darfur: China is Sudan's largest trading partner and the main foreign investor in its oil industry. Most Western oil companies, under pressure from human rights organizations, have withdrawn from Sudan. And although we know that economic isolation and divestment can have a very powerful, positive effect (think South Africa), China continues to do business with Sudan, enabling slavery and genocide.

China: The list of China's abuses of its own people is long and shameful. China executes more of its citizens than the rest of the capital-punishment countries combined and doubled. While China has a much larger population than those other countries, its rate of execution is still disproportionate. China has more capital crimes, and is believed to have more hidden executions and political executions, than any other country in the world.

China jails (and also executes) thousands of activists, political dissidents, journalists, and ordinary citizens who attempt free expression. Reporters Without Borders is a good source for civil liberty and human rights abuses in China, as is Human Rights Watch.

China's labour laws are a sad joke. Factory conditions sound like something out of Dickens or Upton Sinclair.

China pollutes water, air, and soil with impunity, poisoning and sickening its citizens for generations to come.

And this is the country that has been rewarded with the 2008 Olympic Games.

Some people say that the international attention brought by the Olympics can be used to leverage change. Do they really believe that?

In the entire history of the universe, has change ever been made, anywhere, by giving a reward before anything has changed?

It's Psychology 101. If you want to teach your child, or your dog, or your partner, that they must change their behaviour, do you first hand them a huge reward, then ask them to change?

If the IOC wanted to use the Olympics to effect change, it would have told China: clean up your act, and we'll consider you for future games. Here's a list of specific changes we want to see. You might have gotten the Olympics, but we won't reward you as long as you continue these crimes.

* * * *

An effective consumer boycott of Chinese products is virtually impossible. What's more - as we learned in the pet food scandal - many products labelled Fabriqué au Canada and Made In USA only get their final assembly or processing in those countries, with parts and materials that originate in China. Unless China is forced to deal humanely and fairly with workers, the environment and consumers - or unless North American businesses are forced into a trade embargo - or both - Chinese products will always undersell those made in North America. And we want to buy everything as cheaply as possible, so we can buy, buy, buy, more, more, more.

There have been scattered calls for an organized international boycott of the Beijing Olympics, but they haven't gained any traction. Not because it's too late. Because every country wants to fuel their economic engines with cheap Chinese goods.

So I'm having my own boycott. I love outstanding athletic competition, and I usually watch as much of the Olympics and Paralympics as I can. This year my TV will stay off.

Laura Kaminker, a writer, moved from the United States to Canada for political reasons. She now works with the War Resisters Support Campaign in Toronto. She writes the blog we move to canada.

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