Olympic Politics

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tim Wu, Professor at Columbia Law School and Co-author of Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World, discusses China’s backflip on a promise to allow full internet access to foreign reporters during the Olympics. Plus, Alan Tomlinson, Professor of Leisure Studies at University of Brighton, discusses national identity and sporting politics.


Alan Tomlinson and Tim Wu

Comments [76]

ellen from usa

American Jewish World Service:

A nonprofit organization dedicated to providing nonsectarian humanitarian assistance and emergency relief to disadvantaged people worldwide.

EVERYwhere except Palestine.

Aug. 01 2008 07:53 AM
Amy from Manhattan

American Jewish World Service has a campaign to get NBC to cover China's complicity in the genocide in Darfur: After giving only 7 hours of coverage to Darfur *in the last 5 years*, NBC is planning to spend *1,400* hours on the Beijing Olympics.

Aug. 01 2008 01:31 AM

Dear dear the Truth.. that is called irony.

I am #1 a human being and happy to support human rights through Amnesty International USA .. Partner of Conscience # 001575061

I am #2 a sports fan

I can quite comfortably support the 2 side by side.

Chill my friend

Jul. 31 2008 02:27 PM
the truth from Atlanta/New York

Take the moral high ground? How exactly do you do that? How do you enjoy what you describe as a "spectacle". Why watch? You are confused Lady. Good day.

P.S. you are now invisible.

Jul. 31 2008 12:17 PM

No need to "post elsewhere" . I am fully invested in this political discussion. Nit picking this issue through the Olympics will not resolve the problem.

One can still take the moral high ground and enjoy the 4 year spectacle that is a SPORTING event. And that is exactly what I will do!!

Jul. 31 2008 11:48 AM
the truth from Atlanta/New York

#71 - also banging out posts between work, sorry for the delay.

Jul. 31 2008 11:42 AM
the truth from Atlanta/New York

#71 voter, got it, no you are not wrong, i agree with you.

Jul. 31 2008 11:41 AM

Odd that so many people here should be exercised over State invasions of privacy, and the collusion of American businesses (including foreign-owned hotels) in monitoring internet access.

Aren't these companies doing the patriotic thing, in respecting the Chinese government's national security interests, just like they do in the U.S.? Haven't we been told for the last 7 years that responsible companies do what the government tells them?

Didn't we just give the telecoms immunity not only for colluding with the government, but for the breaking law?

What in the world are you complaining about? This how we spread freedom and democracy in the world, by example.

Jul. 31 2008 11:31 AM
Voter from Brooklyn

My apologies “Truth”, bad call trying to bang out an e-mail and work at the same time.
My point is this. China isn’t trying to sell the world a product, they are selling propaganda. These games are a coming out ball, and China is sole debutante. China has more than enough money and might to produce for every aspect of the games without the sponsors; however, corporate sponsorship is all over this mess. If the media leaves, China may not even care, but sponsors will. If sponsors take a financial hit, from lawsuits to threats over withdrawal of factories (there are cheaper places to make a Speedo swimsuit than China) they will plan some sort of retaliation and make their opinions heard. I think political propaganda will bow to corporate profits.
Am I wrong?

Jul. 31 2008 11:19 AM

This is scary.

Jul. 31 2008 11:18 AM
the truth from Atlanta/New York

#68 voter not sure what your point is, a little confusing. are you saying that the sponsors will lose money so the media should stay so that they (the sponsors) are not "unhappy" wha???

I suppose the sponsors pulling out would only be effective if china has a financial interest in what is begin sold by the sponsors.

Jul. 31 2008 11:05 AM
Voter from Brooklyn

Look at it this way #50/Tony and “the Truth”:

If the media threatens a boycott (global media, not just GE/NBC) no one will related advertisements. No one will see non-sports events sponsored by sponsors. No one will see the logos on the jersey of that track and field star, or on the cap of the world-class diver. The incentive for the sponsors to participate in any of this be lost, and the money they have already invested… After all they (the sponsors) have invested, if China allows the media to walk, the sponsors will not be happy.

Jul. 31 2008 10:55 AM
the truth from Atlanta/New York

Good point milkman.

Jul. 31 2008 10:46 AM
World's Toughest Milkman from the_C_train

China already has won, they own our debt.

Jul. 31 2008 10:44 AM
the truth from Atlanta/New York

That is a good idea, sponsors should pull out! That is better than a boycott.

Jul. 31 2008 10:44 AM
the truth from Atlanta/New York


Give me more...look at the big picture.....?

Jul. 31 2008 10:43 AM
Voter from Brooklyn

#40/Chris O,
It’s not so much being an imperialist (thought I’m pretty sure China has an imperialist streak as well) blasting China. It’s teaching China how capitalism works. Everything bows down to the power of the purse. A media blackout isn’t about hurting China’s feelings, it’s a demonstration of sorts… If media guest in China don’t have free access to the Internet, then China doesn’t have free access to the media, sponsors, and the eyeballs of consumers (their hearts, minds, or dollars.) Perhaps China hasn’t heard the old adage “the customer is ALWAYS right.”

Jul. 31 2008 10:43 AM
Sue from North Salem, NY

I just hate how they have to break away from the event to some soap-opera contrived MONTAGE of the athlete and their struggles to reach the games, often creating drama where none exists. It's like we can only tune in if it's wrapped in eye candy and quivering lower lips and KT Tungstall's "Suddenly I see". Remove all the filler and the actual events coverage would take an hour each night.

Jul. 31 2008 10:39 AM
ellen from usa

Read Naomi Klein's article in the Rolling stone about China's "laboratory" for high-tech security - 200,000 cameras installed, internet monitoring, closed circuit TV, face-recognition, cell phone monitoring, the ultimate aim to have a police data base of 1 billion Chinese.
And then, yes, import to US.

Jul. 31 2008 10:38 AM
Tom from Toronto


Smaller countries tend to root for their athletes more for the simple fact that the overall number of their countries athletes being represented in the games is quite small. It has nothing to do with being "less-developed" (and any attendant connotations).

America is spoiled in that they are use to having a plethora of athletes competitive in almost every field - something smaller countries cannot hope to achieve.

Jul. 31 2008 10:36 AM
Robert from NYC

I don't care who wins at the Olympics anymore. I used to be a big fan and looked forward to the Olympics every four years but after Albertrville. I became aware more and more of the politics of the Olympics and just how political and commercial the venue really is and I became totally disinterested and turned-off by that whole side of it. I'm sorry for the athletes but I but I guess if the only way you can get a billion dollar contract to do Wheatees and Nike commercials then more power to them. I don't think that's what the ancient Greeks had in mind but who knows. I always thought theirs was a more noble ideals. I don't even watch anymore.

Jul. 31 2008 10:35 AM
Robert from Bergen County

Given the controversy surrounding doping—who is and who isn’t and the cat and mouse games that attend this issue—why anyone should invest emotions in the outcome of any event seems to me to be foolish.

I cannot help but equate those who cheer heartily for any country or individual performer with those who go nuts over a professional wrestling bout.

Jul. 31 2008 10:34 AM

I think that Americans are VERY nationalistic when watching the Olympics...also South Korea is considered developed now but is also perhaps the most nationalistic country on the planet, for a variety of reasons, most having to do with their history of dominance by Japan, China and the US.

Jul. 31 2008 10:34 AM

I do not route for the USA esp. when the networks in the USA tend to focus mostly on US teams or athletes; and they always come out as cocky and arrogant and have an attitude that "we're USA, and we're gonna kick your a**". ANd when they do lose, they're a bunck of losers

In Canada, or England, they focus on every athletes, not just USA.

Jul. 31 2008 10:34 AM
seth from Long Island

The Olympics are a crock and a fraud. Sports do not belong on a pedestral. The world would be better served by replacing the Olympics with a music, art, and literary festival. Art, theater, cinema, music, and poetry are much more important to our culture than sports. They appeal to one's emotions as well as their intellect. Sports only appeal to one's emotions.

Jul. 31 2008 10:32 AM
JG from New York, NY

I root for U.S. teams and athletes at the Olympics, not because I'm jingoistic or patriotic, but because I want to participate in what the Olympics represent. Events like the Olympics and the World Cup enable sports dominance to stand in for military dominance. Winning on the playing field, at least symbolically, obviates the need to win on the battlefield. I think perpetuating these kinds of symbolic victories therefore provides an important catharsis and downplays militarism.

Jul. 31 2008 10:32 AM
rmw102176 from Park Slope

I guess I'm rooting for my country b/c they're the athletes to whom I pay the most attention. But more so I'm rooting for humanity. I love watching the athletes challenge their bodies to the maximum and celebrating their achievements.

Jul. 31 2008 10:32 AM
Tony from Brooklyn

Micheal Winslow(1), China can't be terrorists because our gub'mint doesn't negotiate with terrorists, borrow money from them or use their cheap labor to feed our consumerist addictions. You saying that the Chinese are terrorists is tantamount to treason. Shame on you. I do believe you've hurt the troops feelings.
To the Jeopardy champions who think NBC should boycott, do you also propose the US government bailing out GE after they go under because of the multi gazillion dollar loss they'd take as a result? The terrorist Chinese are all to willing to lend us the money to do that.
What an in depth discussion of this issue would touch on is that China is empowered precisely because we've empowered them through deficit spending caused by banking deregulation and a war of choice. How is China any more enlightened than Cuba where sick children die because of the US embargo?
I don't vote in China. I vote in the US. So I don't hold China responsible for their transgressions. I hold the US government responsible, and by extension the US electorate.

Jul. 31 2008 10:30 AM

ummmm, who cares about the olympics really?

does the US have to define themselves through pole-vaulting? does any country?

Jul. 31 2008 10:29 AM
hjs from 11211

the truth

look at the big picture

Jul. 31 2008 10:29 AM
hjs from 11211

chris O
sees it clearly, thanks

Jul. 31 2008 10:28 AM
Leshka from UES

The one thing we must remember is that if the media pulls out, and the sponsors aren't happy, who gets the shaft? Not the Chinese government, that's for sure. It's the regular Chinese person who will get beat up upon as they have been before. The govt has shown us that they will do anything for appearances, so why not have an even tighter hold on their citizens when this is all over?

Of course, who's to say that won't happen anyway?

Jul. 31 2008 10:27 AM

Media should just report whatever they see during the game, let Chinese government know that the game is only China's, it's people's game.

Finally, Chinese government just afraid to show the real society there.

Jul. 31 2008 10:27 AM
the truth from Atlanta/New York

This is NOT about US right now chris o! stay focused.

Jul. 31 2008 10:26 AM
Robert from NYC

Ted Stevens will have the internet to kick around again after his pardon.

Jul. 31 2008 10:26 AM
Yvette from Westchester, NY

Maybe the Olympic committee should have included a hefty fine in the contract. The Chinese certainly understand money these days.

Also, there is a thing called "saving face" in the Chinese culture. I think other than pure politics there is a cultural element to this as well. The Olympics is viewed as such a huge honor for the Chinese that they don't want anything to cause them to lose face. Ironically this development is actually causing them to have such negative reactions around the world.

Jul. 31 2008 10:25 AM
the truth from Atlanta/New York

If you have to ask what the big deal is or if you believe this is "just a sporting event" then you should probably go post elsewhere.

Jul. 31 2008 10:24 AM
chris o from New York City

All you imperialists calling for a boycott and blasting China: your house is in order? You have democracy? Haha.

Jul. 31 2008 10:24 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Hey, what’s the big news here? In 1936 the “Olympic Movement" showed up in Nazi Germany. In the late 90’s the “Olympic Movement"
was exposed for massive corruption. So now they show up in authoritarian, über- capitalist China. I am shock, shocked.

Jul. 31 2008 10:24 AM
naomi from ny

One caller kind of brought it up, but the issue wasn't actually addressed: is there any news going on in china about this? ie: "Foreign Journalists annoyed they can't get internet," or "IOC changes tune" or something like that?

Jul. 31 2008 10:23 AM
Maria from New York

*Someone* on the Chinese government must have access to these sites - how do they identify them otherwise? Plus, I'm sure they keep tabs on what the BBC in Chinese, Amnesty International and others are saying about them. They just need to open this system to the press.

My hypothesis is that this would involve special accounts that the government fears the journalists would give to activists.

Jul. 31 2008 10:22 AM
michael winslow from INWOOD

Don't forget the US State Department run by everyone's favorite Condi Rice removed China from the list of world's worst human rights violators.

washington post March 12, 2008 "US delisting of China upsets rights activists"

Jul. 31 2008 10:21 AM
Jenny Dobell from Rye, NY

This is the last straw. I was on the fence as to whether to have a personal ban on the opening ceremonies in my home...but now, i will ban the whole darn thing. i'm fed up with the ioc...why they ever gave the olympics to china in the first place i will NEVER understand!

Jul. 31 2008 10:21 AM
Robert from NYC

Are you really surprised at the IOC? Really, they are a an elite group of old and new fascists whose prime interest is money and luxury and they prove that over and over and over and over and over again. Pay them enough and you can do whatever you like.

Jul. 31 2008 10:21 AM
Ayanna from Brooklyn, NY

Interesting that China can do whatever it wants to curtain or violate human rights, and is still feted as this wonderful emerging economy; while, at the same time, the Cuban embargo remains. I am confused. Aren't these both Communist countries with many flagrant human rights abuses? I guess the "evil" label is applied depending on who holds the note on our many debts.

Jul. 31 2008 10:21 AM
Duncan from NJ

The media should report the fact that the means to report the events are blocked. belabor the fact. However, it's not a hard work-around. What breaking political facts would they need?

The real response would be WALK.

Jul. 31 2008 10:20 AM
the truth from Atlanta/New York

It is most certainly NOT a technical issue, they are leaps and bounds ahead of us on the technical aspect.

Jul. 31 2008 10:19 AM
Diana Clark from Chatham, NJ

Love the idea of covering the non-Internet story BIG TIME. Humilate repressive governments by ridiculing them. This might slightly relieve us of the guilt of supporting this regime which the rest of the world apparently takes seriously ("Peace with honor?????) by sending the Olympc Games there. The Games have deteriorated into a nationalistic phoney war, but letting the Chinese win any "prestige" by holding them there is an insult to the concept of human liberty and justice.

Jul. 31 2008 10:19 AM
veronica from manhattan

It's not about the eternal flame, the athletes or a communist gov. that runs it's county as it sees fit... how about protesting the olympic committee who voted to have the games in frickin China in the first place.

It's all politics.

Jul. 31 2008 10:19 AM
Zach from UWS

I just read in the New Yorker about how it is not particularly difficult to get around these firewalls. Plenty of Chinese do it.

Jul. 31 2008 10:19 AM
Dave from Summit, NJ

If it was a technical issue, why wouldn't China try and save face by saying so instead of leading people to believe it is further censorship?

Jul. 31 2008 10:18 AM
the truth from Atlanta/New York

Not surprised! It is as the guest said, tell us at the last minute and reduce the "whine time"

Jul. 31 2008 10:18 AM

What is the big deal? Whilst I agree that there is a valid discussion to be had about access and freedom of information in China, this is a sporting event!!

There have been many previous Olympics when the internet was never a factor.

Jul. 31 2008 10:17 AM
bob from huntington

NBC should vigorously cover the political aspects of covering the Olympics in China during its coverage of sporting events--not just during its regular news coverage. If the Chinese have elected to tarnish their image this way, NBC should present that tarnished image.

Jul. 31 2008 10:17 AM
Jonathan from New York

This censorship is another (but probably the least) reason to boycott the games, after Tibet suppression, and most significantly the Chinese support of a genocidal regime in Sudan. That the games were awarded to Beijing is only an indication of how Chinese economic might has cowed Western moral will. We accede to whatever the Chinese leadership wants. Why is anyone surprised that the Olympic committee let this one slide by?

Jul. 31 2008 10:17 AM
the truth from Atlanta/New York

OK so who voted for the Olympic games to go into this Country? and ...why in the hell didn't they clear this beforehand?

Jul. 31 2008 10:17 AM
GTA Bath from brooklyn

The US has next to no leverage with China- how many billions of US debt do they own?

So, we're stuck in the realm of discussing what SHOULD happen, not what reasonably might. We could go on for ages about this, but its all a bit hypothetical...

The press could report it i suppose- but isn't it up to the Chinese to do something about this....?

Jul. 31 2008 10:16 AM
Ron from Bronx

I agree with Brian...the news media should refuse to broadcast the games.

Jul. 31 2008 10:15 AM
Voter from Brooklyn

I happen to agree with Brian. When I heard about this on NPR while getting ready for work, my first thought was “leave China.” China wanted these games to be a coming out party for an economic world power. If the media leaves, sponsors will not be happy. Every aspect of these games hinges on keeping sponsors happy. If media threatens to leave, sponsors will threaten to pull out. That will get China’s attention.

Jul. 31 2008 10:15 AM
JR from norwalk, ct

Boycott the games - Don't watch!

Jul. 31 2008 10:15 AM
Alex from Brooklyn

Tim Wu doesn't understand the technical nature of this situation.

It might be difficult to set up un-censored access overnight. But with years notice, it is trivially simple to set this up in media centers. And would cost a tiny tiny fraction of the cost of building the media centers.

Mr. Wu is missing the point here. It is not a technical problem. Rather, it is political issue, one that the IOC sided with the Chinese government on.

Jul. 31 2008 10:15 AM
eastvillage from nyc

I'm a bit surprised that anyone is surprised that China is doing this. Are you really surprised? America's policy with China has been the same for a long time now: we want their economic activity and everything else takes second place. Free speech included.

Jul. 31 2008 10:14 AM
dirk from woodside, ny

do you think the US has an uncensored internet? try again!

there are loads of sites that are blocked for us, and the beauty of it is, the average citizen never has to know that this type of censorship is happening.

Jul. 31 2008 10:14 AM
Andy from Brooklyn

Don't most of the young people in China know how to circumvent the firewall through proxies?
Imagine if some other country confronted China and made an official roaming proxy to get past the firewall.

Jul. 31 2008 10:14 AM
Arthur Aptowitz from Forest Hills-Key Food-Queens Blvd and 108th Street

This is NOt a SURPRISE.
Greatr idea for the media to leave, but it WON'T happen. If one org., others will see it as an opportunity to get more attention for themselves. The only thing we can hope for is publicity about it.

Jul. 31 2008 10:14 AM
chris o from New York City

Why must they have the same values as us? Is our system so great, our way so perfect that everyone must follow it? The Olympics have become a farce, overinfused with politics and commercialism, and so all tangents related thereto must likewise be considered unimportant.

Jul. 31 2008 10:13 AM
Di from Chatham, NJ

you said it right, brian the NBC folks should pack up and leave. This shows once more that theOlympics are just a nationalistic farce produce for entertainment, nothong to do with the original spirit of international freindship and fairness. No "sporting" attitude - did anyone expect this from the newly money-grubbing but still polittically repressive Chinese? the difference between the new China and the Old USSR is minimal.

Jul. 31 2008 10:13 AM
seth from Long Island

China is a criminal, gangster govt. The members of the IOC who chose China the rt to hold the Olympics should rot for eternity in the place starting with the letter "H" and ending with the letter "L". NBC is a disgrace for carrying a zillion hrs of Olympics coverage. The US doesn't care about democracy in China as long as they embrace capitalist economic policies. China hosting the Olympics is a travesty, disgrace, obscenity, and abomination.

Jul. 31 2008 10:13 AM
Sue from North Salem, NY

There has to be a crack team of hackers somewhere that can get around this. Send the Geek Squad in!

Jul. 31 2008 10:12 AM
isaac from Harlem

The _Angry Youth_ article in the _New Yorker_ last week suggested that one can easily evade firewalls and censors through the use of proxy sites. Is this really that big a deal?

Jul. 31 2008 10:12 AM
David from Queens

Make these the lowest rated games ever and don't watch them.

Jul. 31 2008 10:12 AM
Tony from San Jose, CA

Can't they just use proxies or VPN?

Jul. 31 2008 10:12 AM
ap from ct

will satellite internet be censored? isn't it impossible to censor satellite internet?

Jul. 31 2008 10:12 AM
jaynab rose from norwalk, ct

I am not in the media, but I think that I will 'black it out' by not watching.

Jul. 31 2008 10:11 AM
michael winslow from INWOOD

The press should just ignore the ban and restrictions and get arrested.

Jul. 31 2008 10:10 AM
michael winslow from INWOOD

What do people expect from China?

They are nothing more than terrorists.

Jul. 31 2008 10:02 AM

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