Sport won’t solve world’s problems but mustn’t be willing participant allowing brutality to continue

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I’M not typically one for any sentimentality about objects; I’ve always found the act of athletes of keeping a few blades of grass from the pitch or continuing to wear a lucky t-shirt superfluous.

But there’s one thing that always gets me; the Olympic flame. The torch relay, which snakes from Olympia in Greece to whichever city is hosting the Games that year takes months, leading to the lighting of the Olympic cauldron which is then extinguished at the closing ceremony.

The 2022 torch relay, which will  end in Beijing in time for February’s opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, began its journey last week and signified the Games are on the horizon.

Usually, the torch relay ignites a spark of excitement in me. Not this time though. Ever since Beijing was awarded the Winter Olympics in 2015, there has been considerable objection to the decision.

Unusually, this is the second time in recent memory in which the Olympics will have landed in Beijing. Around the previous edition, in 2008, there was the hope, or at least the suggestion, that the international attention the Olympics would bring would go some way to improving human rights in China.

Back then, Chinese leaders promised concessions to basic democracy to show that they would be worthy hosts. 

However, few, if any, of the promises came to fruition.

Thirteen years on, serious concerns remain over China’s human rights record, from stripping Hong Kong of its promised democratic freedoms to the treatment of the Uyghur Muslims.

Even on day one of the torch relay, the first wave of protests were apparent. Activists sneaked into the archaeological site where the flame lighting ceremony was being held and ran towards the newly lit torch holding a Tibetan flag and a banner that read “No genocide games”.

We can be certain this protest will  be the first of many.

There is a significant contrast this time around though to the 2008 Olympics. Back then, there was a hope that the protests would have an impact; maybe not solve all the problems but certainly shift China’s direction of travel.

It didn’t happen; there was no change.

Few are naive enough to expect any kind of improvement in China’s human rights standards this time around. The country’s leader, Xi Jinping, is neither inclined nor compelled to compromise, and a raft of protests will likely make not one jot of difference. 

Despite this, the activists’ demonstrations are not in vain.

They may be unlikely to be heard by the Chinese government but they will be seen and heard by the rest of the world.

And they will be seen and heard by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who until now at least, have proven immune to any suggestion that the Games should not be hosted by countries which have as questionable a human rights record as China.

It has been suggested that a boycott is the only true way for these concerns to be heard, with elected officials in the United States, Canada as well as Britain having called on their countries to abstain from the Olympics at times in the past few years, as have countless human rights organisations. 

It won’t happen though; there will be no boycott. 

Neither should there be. 

This is not the athletes’ responsibility to fix.

There has to be, however, a change of mindset from organisations such as the all-powerful IOC, that allows some of the atrocities by bidding countries to continue.

China wants to host the Olympic Games because it improves its reputation on the global stage but this wilful blindness must end.

Successfully hosting the biggest sporting event on the planet, and Beijing 2022 will be successful in the sporting sense at least, is exactly the advert the Chinese government want.

Someone with the power to prevent this must stand up and be counted soon.

Sport will not solve the world’s problems, but it cannot continue to be such a willing participant in allowing brutality to continue.

 

 AND ANOTHER THING

A

nd so, the crisis at UK Athletics deepens.

After an athlete revolt last month, in which a number of the top athletes issued a “cry to help” to Seb Coe due to worries  about the leadership capabilities of those in charge, there was yet another bombshell last week.

Chief executive, Joanna Coates, and performance director Sara Symington both left their posts – hastily, it must be added – leaving the sport rudderless.

It is a perilous time for athletics in Britain; this summer was the first time since 1996 the team had returned home from an Olympic Games without a gold medal, and the total of six medals was seen as a considerable let-down.

Of course, it is the athletes themselves who are ultimately responsible for their results, but the impact and significance of those at the helm cannot be underestimated.

There is now a distinctly Scottish feel to UK Athletics, with Ian Beattie and Mark Munro, both who spent a number of years at the top of Scottish Athletics, recently installed as chairman and development director respectively, with Munro being appointed interim chief executive following Coates’ departure.

With three major championships on the horizon next summer, time is of the essence for UK Athletics.

Things need to be sorted quickly or else the ramifications could be felt for some time to come.



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