I’ll be the first one to admit that I’ve always loved the Summer Olympics. Not as much as I love the Winter Games, mind you – after all, what could possibly beat the endless loops of Mike Eruzione’s game-winner in the 1980 Miracle on Ice? But few spectacles in the world of sports can match the parade of humanity that is the opening ceremonies. You can have your opening day, thank you very much. I’ll take the spectacle of traditional juggernauts such as the United States and the United Kingdom sharing a stage with one-man “teams” from countries who haven’t yet enjoyed one generation of self-rule. Perhaps the sentiment is a tad cliché, but for this underdog-lover, it’s comforting to know that income disparities and advanced militaries still don’t make a difference in a footrace. The Olympics, in short, are the prime example of sports as the great equalizer.

This isn’t to say, however, that the Olympics are isolated from the vicissitudes of world politics. Unlike their Greek predecessors, the modern Games have taken a backseat to global conflagrations and have been hijacked by ambitious politicians – consider the famous 1936 Berlin Olympics, which Nazi Germany attempted to use as a showcase of Aryan perfection. The Mexico City Games of 1968 witnessed the controversial Black Power salute of American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos. In 1980, a bloc of Western nations, spearheaded by the United States, boycotted the Moscow Games as an act of protest against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Massive expenditures – and their implied expectation of even more massive profits – and global media exposure have transformed the Games from a simple sporting competition to a prime stage for political statements.

No Olympics in recent memory have been so ripe for political discussion as the impending Games in Beijing. Even the Olympic torch relay, normally a tame affair only covered on the local nightly news, has found its way into the front pages of global newspapers, as protesters have attacked the torch in London and Paris. The protesters in question have been protesting the host-to-be for their brutal treatment of Tibetan dissidents in recent weeks, but the truth is that recent events in China only scrape the surface of the brutality of contemporary China.

The state of political freedoms in China has ceased to be, like all human rights discussions, a matter of political opinion. When a country executes more than 10 times as many prisoners as any other nation on earth, it’s hardly a matter of socialism versus capitalism. When said government charges its victims’ families for the cost of the bullet used in the execution, revulsion doesn’t depend on one’s political allegiance. The simple fact is that the Chinese government’s record on human rights is downright appalling. Why should the United States sanction through participation in the Olympics a government that so flagrantly abuses its own people?

I fully understand that expecting an Olympic boycott to produce dramatic changes in China is foolish thinking. I know that the American boycott of the 1980 Olympics yielded no changes in Soviet foreign policy and was only effective in instigating a counter-boycott four years later in Los Angeles. In fact, given the growing importance of hyper-capitalist China in the global economy, it’s probably wishful thinking to even imagine a boycott on the part of the United States. Such action would almost certainly draw economic reprisals from China and could put a considerable squeeze on the American economy. Let’s not forget about the athletes themselves, many of whom are relying on Olympic success as a springboard to fame and prosperity and who have only a fleeting moment in their athletic prime. For them, an Olympic boycott, no matter how well-intentioned, would be a disastrous folly.

Yet for those of us without financial or emotional investments in either China or the Beijing Games, the choice seems pretty clear – don’t watch. It’s advice that Americans have increasingly been heeding in recent years, albeit more out of apathy than philanthropy. Those of us who still eagerly gather to watch the Olympics, even now have power as television viewers, as the saying goes, to hit the Chinese government where it hurts. Yes, we’ll have to find something else to watch on TV during the Games, but even watching two weeks of reruns is better than allowing ourselves to condone the record of the Chinese government.

Brendan Roach is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at roachthehoya.com. THE LOSING STREAK appears every other Tuesday in HOYA SPORTS.

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