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Torch Turmoil

This article is more than 11 years old.

The Olympic Torch is supposed to symbolize high ideals of international cooperation and competition.  However, protests aimed at the torch have put an issue of international discord in the spotlight.  The protests may be uncomfortable to watch, but as Bill Littlefield comments, there is no better place than the Olympics to remind the world of what truly matters. 

The journey of the Olympic torch from the site of the most recent Games to the next city hosting the Olympics is supposed to be a spectacle, not a competition. But this spring, as the torch has passed through London, Paris, and San Francisco, competition has been evident. Some people determined to call attention to China’s oppression of Tibet and the failure of the Chinese government to use its influence with Sudan to end the suffering in Darfur have wrestled with security guards in an attempt to extinguish the flame. Their efforts in Paris have been described as “chaos,” and officials there had to sneak the torch into a bus. Thirty seven people were arrested as the torch made its awkward and controversial way through London. In San Francisco on Monday, nimble protestors hung banners calling for a free Tibet from the Golden Gate Bridge, then officials altered the route of the torch run in order to avoid more demonstrators. The argument that these protests are inappropriate as well as ineffective is not hard to understand. Some people believe the Olympic Games represent ideals that should be free of politics. They maintain that Olympic boycotts by the U.S. in 1980 and the Soviet Union in 1984 did nothing but diminish the victories of the athletes who did show up. But what are we if we do not squawk at injustice? And where better to squawk than in the spotlight? One objection brought up by people who feel anything connected to the Olympics should be out-of-bounds for protesters is that the current protests are selective: China’s government isn’t the only one committing atrocities and ignoring the human rights of numerous citizens. This is true. But Beijing is the site of the 2008 Games. That’s where the torch is headed. If San Francisco had been its final destination, perhaps the protests would have decried the on-going occupation of Iraq.  At their best, the Olympic Games give exceptional athletes the opportunity to impress an enormous audience with their skill and dedication. The competition can be glorious, and the stories of some of the athletes involved are compelling, even inspiring. But to suggest that the Games hover somewhere above the real world…the world in which men and women who embrace goals braver and more significant than “swifter, higher, stronger” shout their outrage at oppression and the denial of human rights…is to forget the meaning of the word “ideals.”   

This program aired on April 10, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

Bill Littlefield Twitter Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.

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