By Alan Caruba
I am one of those people who rarely watches any sport. I was not into sports as a kid and, while I would occasionally attend a University of Miami football game as a student, I could never get into the mass hysteria that seems to afflict any crowd that watches any sport in a stadium.
It’s a “game.” The people involved are called “players” because it is a form of play. That said, I can and do appreciate the mastery of any game whether it’s Tiger Woods playing golf or some kid competing in gymnastics. I enjoy seeing anyone do anything well, be it a billiards championship or a poker tournament with a million bucks at stake.
Sports has become a mega-billion dollar industry with all manner of spin-offs for the often costly gear involved, the fan’s purchase of team-related items, and even the sale of baseball cards or other paraphernalia. I am all about capitalism, so you won’t find me complaining much about obscene salaries, although I do draw the line on universities paying a coach more than a professor or building a huge stadium while ignoring academic facilities and raising the tuition at the same time.
The Olympics, however, have always struck me as political. It’s what the author George Orwell called “mimic war” as nations compete to field teams that will hopefully bring home the glory and the gold. For that reason, it's well to keep in mind the reality that Beijing is under virtual martial law. President Bush is being urged to speak out on behalf of human rights in China. Though a worthy goal, it is an exercise in futility so far as China is concerned.
I am not likely to watch much of the China-based Olympic Games. I am happy that China has opened itself to the world to host them, but I am far less happy that the world has ignored its annexation of Tibet by armed force. As for the Chinese people, I want them to prosper as capitalists and hopefully to rid themselves of their Communist bosses some day in favor of a more democratic system.
One cannot be anything other than amazed at the progress China has made since it jettisoned the dead hand of the communist economic system. The Chinese have an ancient history of innovation and culture. Long suffering, the Chinese are an extraordinary people who were writing poetry while most of the West was still rubbing two sticks together to make fire.
The Games are China’s opportunity to demonstrate they have begun to join the modern nations of the world, competing in the arena of sports, playing host to athletes, tourists and the press of the world.
It is instructive that its current leaders are all engineers by profession. Engineers know how to create a nation’s infrastructure, building bridges, roads, plants to generate energy, and cities for its billion-plus population. They also know how to build prisons.
Across the narrow straits from China is Taiwan, an island nation that has long since demonstrated how to create a thriving democracy and economy. It did not escape the notice of China’s leaders. Despite the bellicose statements and actions of China toward Taiwan, they realized the example Taiwan set could be their own as well. This occurred only because the United States extended its protection to Taiwan after it broke away from mainland China. In order to open China to the world, however, the United States under Nixon had to undertake the diplomatic pretense that Taiwan did not have sovereign standing among the nations of the world.
So, thank you, Taiwan, for your courage and your example.
Previous Olympic Games have often suffered from the public’s disinterest in the 24/7 television coverage devoted to them. I will surely be among those watching something else for the duration of the Games, but I will be watching China for a very long time to come.