Olympic Games

A human rights boycott of the Beijing Olympics has long seemed more threat than probability. But it has gained a bit of substance with Steven Spielberg, the Oscar-winning American film director who made a film about the killing of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, withdrawing as an artistic advisor to the games’ opening ceremony. His pull out is a protest against China’s backing for Sudan’s policy in Dafur, a cause that has gained some backing in Hollywood where it is being championed by Mia Farrow.

China has extensive investments in the Sudanese oil industry and imports two thirds of the country’s oil. It maintains close links with the government which is fighting rebels in the south and west. Some 200,000 people have died in Dafur from the combined effects of war, famine and disease since 2003, when a civil conflict erupted pitting the government-backed Janjaweed militias against non-Arab ethnic groups.

Spielberg’s announcement came on a “Global Day Of Action” over Dafur. Among several protests, Farrow tried to deliver an open letter about Dafur to the Chinese U.N. mission in New York. The letter signed by several former Olympic medalists as well as politicians, entertainers and peace activists. Meanwhile, the U.K. has just lifted a controversial gagging order on its athletes that had been intended to stop them commenting on China’s human rights record.

This is all no more than a slight embarrassment to Beijing so far. Its standard response has been to ignore protests connecting its human rights record to the games (state TV blanked out reports of the British Olympic Associations gagging order being lifted) or to criticize its critics for what it calls attempts to “politicize” the games. It won’t become a concern unless corporate sponsors start to pull out. And there is no sign of that yet.

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Filed under Beijing Olympics, Media, Politics & Society

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