Wake up Monday morning, log into email, and look at all of the news, across such a variety of news spectrums, that these Olympic Games have generated...It's a stunning and fascinating look at so much more than sport, so much more than politics, or economics, culture or history. China is being paid attention to in ways that it just never has been before, and as someone who cares deeply about the future of the relationship between China and the rest of the world, I have to say that that can only be a good thing.
So first I went to the New York Times, where Lynn Zinser has written a historical retrospective on the deal-making that went into convincing China to attend the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Those Olympics are remembered in China for the first wave of individual sports stars who made their names (and their nicknames) there - gymnast Li Ning, the "prince of gymnastics," who won three individual gold medals and six total medals, including a team silver; and volleyballer Lang Ping, the "iron hammer," whose team completed the trifecta of winning the world cup, world championships, and Olympic gold in the period from 1981-1984 with the win in L.A. against the Flo Hyman-led U.S. team in the gold-medal match. We remember those moments but perhaps not the Soviet threat to keep China out of the '84 Games - and the secret envoys that went to the countries threatening to join the boycott. The envoy who was able to get China to agree to come to L.A., Charles Lee, is the chef de mission of the 2008 U.S. Olympic team - this is a great read.
From history to Olympic logistics: news out of Beijing that rights-holding broadcasters have been granted permission to broadcast live from Tiananmen Square, but only during two time slots each day for a total of six hours daily. The AP reports that many roadblocks have kept rights-holding broadcasters from having the unfettered access to broadcasting from around Beijing that had been promised when Beijing was awarded the games, and clearly it's still a huge issue less than a month out from the opening ceremonies. There is no bureaucracy like Chinese bureaucracy, but the local organizers should have done way more homework to figure out how to solve their issues without looking like they're blocking Western news organizations from doing their work. It speaks to the worst of what people outside China perceive to be wrong with China - the lack of basic freedoms - and coming so close to the Games, it means that Olympic journalists have a lot of reason to pay very close attention to whether they're allowed to work freely while in Beijing, and to report on it. What actually happens on the ground in Beijing will go a long way towards letting us know whether China really understands how important press freedom is at the Olympics and in a civil society - and whether they're going to take a step forward in that regard on the biggest international stage they've ever had, or not.
On to more positive China news: Chinese media reports that a positive doping test for a Chinese athlete at the Games will result in a lifetime ban. China has been very vocal about its seriousness in doing all it can to eradicate doping and this news comes on the heels of the lifetime ban of swimmer Ouyang Kunpeng, one of eight Chinese athletes that were caught doping recently and banned from their sports. That's good news. Doping will never cease to be a problem in sport (add money and razor-thin margins of victory together and you'll always find people willing to risk it all for a big payday) but the fact that so much of the strongest anti-doping policy right now is coming out of China right now is welcome news.
Whew. History, press freedom, doping policy - and we haven't even talked about sport yet. Later this week, we'll start profiling some of the major Chinese athletes to pay attention to at these Games - and the headlines you can expect to see both for the U.S. team and for China.