Report of Chinese abuses can't shock IOC

Updated: December 9, 2005, 6:12 PM ET
By Mark Kreidler | Special to ESPN.com

Say, here's an idea. Let's (1) assign the Olympics to a nation with a record on human rights that historically rests somewhere south of Genghis Khan, (2) tell ourselves that this will be a wonderful opportunity for that country to suddenly bolt forward into the modern era of equal justice for all, and then (3) act utterly shocked when it doesn't work.

Beijing Olympics
AP/Ng Han GuanChina is preparing for the world stage as it hosts the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Give IOC president Jacques Rogge this much: He hasn't succumbed to item No. 3 on behalf of his Olympic brethren. About the rest, though: Let the Nave Games begin.

Rogge was clearly vexed by the recent report from the BBC that British Olympian (and four-time rowing gold medalist) Matthew Pinsent witnessed Chinese coaches beating gymnasts when Pinsent visited Beijing, host city for the 2008 Summer Games. Some of the athletes at the sports boarding school Pinsent visited were as young as 5 years old.

Rogge called for an inquiry into Pinsent's claims, but he was lightning-quick to jump on guard against a blanket condemnation of China's way of, ah, preparing its future Olympians for success.

"We need to establish if this is systematic or whether there are regrettable isolated cases, which will also have to be tackled," the IOC leader told Britain's Sunday Telegraph. "If the IOC believes the methods are widespread and unacceptable, then we will talk to authorities."

Excellent. And Rogge and his people will learn of widespread abuse how, again? By the normal function of a free press in Beijing?

Further, Rogge said: "One has to judge China in the true perspective of realizing that 50 years ago they were nowhere [with regard to human rights] ... We cannot, as wealthy Westerners, be so arrogant to say that it has to be according to our laws -- laws that have developed over 200 years."

There you have it, the line in the sandbox: If they're going to use China as a staging area for their Olympian production, then the people involved are just going to have to be ready to understand and overlook a few things.

Everybody in the Olympic movement up for that?

Rogge knows better than to feign shock at reports like Pinsent's, because Rogge is a veteran of the Olympics and a citizen of the world. We come here not to mock the man. He was part of the deal that brokered the Games to Beijing, and he did so knowing full well China's horrible record of human rights abuse. It's stretching the bounds of credulity to suggest Rogge thought hosting the Olympics would alter the course of a nation.

Still, one wonders what anyone else aligned with the IOC imagined might come of China's opportunity to host the Games -- aside from the business itself, of course.

Perhaps, in a giddy moment, some folks looked beyond the mammoth dollars incorporated into China's bid and fancied the Olympics as an agent of social change. With all due respect, many of those Westerners who have actually traveled to China would disagree fairly violently with that notion.

Likewise, it is telling that Pinsent would be able to openly witness young athletes being struck by their coaches, even though officials at the sports academy almost certainly understood who he was. It isn't so ridiculous to suggest that the coaches didn't necessarily think they were doing anything, you know, noteworthy.

The deal to bring China into the realm of Olympic hosting was never going to be an uncomplicated one. China is going to behave as China does. It will dress up its city and its country for the visitors, but it will not change its heart.

Jacques Rogge knows that much, which is why he sounded concerned but not terribly surprised by the news from Matthew Pinsent. This much we can be sure of: Rogge will not be informed by anyone in China, now or ever, that the problem of athlete abuse is widespread. That is neither a comfort nor a shock.

It is, in the end, the way things are.

Mark Kreidler is a columnist for the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Reach him at mkreidler@sacbee.com

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