Tibet Crisis Impacts China's Olympics

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How will the uprising in Tibet affect the upcoming Olympics in Beijing? A look at the history of controversies and boycotts of previous games may offer some lessons. The first Olympics began with a truce.


As China gets ready to receive the Olympic torch in Beijing tomorrow, there was more unrest in Tibet as police apparently tried to carry out security checks. In Nepal, Tibetan exiles and Monks attempted to storm the Chinese embassy and were stopped by police.

China's human rights record remains under scrutiny as the country prepares to host the summer's Olympics. NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr recalls the controversies surrounding previous Olympic games.

DANIEL SCHORR: The Olympic truce it's called. Two warring kings in the area of Greece called Olympia agreed to suspend fighting that would interfere with athletes and pilgrims traveling to the Games. But in modern times the Olympic truce has been honored and the breach.

I remember 1936 when Chancellor Adolph Hitler left the Olympic stadium in Berlin to avoid having to honor a very non-Aryan black American Jesse Owens who had won four gold medals that year. Some may remember 1968 when the games were held in Mexico City despite a campus riot in which many students were killed, and two African-American competitors flashed a black power salute through the national anthem to protest against racism in America.

Many may remember 1972 in Munich when Arab commandos killed two Israeli athletes. Then there was 1980 when President Jimmy Carter declared a boycott of the Moscow Olympics to protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. So next August, Beijing. What will China's violent crackdown on Tibetans and Chinese dissidents bring?

We may get a taste of that on April 9 when the Olympic torch, winding its way from Greece to Beijing, arrives in San Francisco. That is likely to become an occasion for anti-Chinese demonstrations. But not many governments are willing to incur the wrath of the Chinese economic powerhouse.

President Bush has confirmed that he'll be Beijing for the games. He said he's going for sports, not politics. French President Nicolas Sarkozy talks of maybe boycotting the opening ceremonies. But Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has made it clear that France is not looking for trouble with the economic giant that China has become.

As the Chinese continues sweeping up dissidents in preparation for the August games, these timorous governments may come under pressure from their people to voice some protests. It looks as though the day of the Olympic truce, when fighting was put on hold for athletes and spectators alike, that's over.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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Correction April 18, 2008

A version of this commentary heard on early feeds of the March 30 show incorrectly stated that two Israelis were killed during the Munich Olympics in 1972. In fact, 11 Israelis were killed.



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