My plane leaves in a little less than eighteen hours, and by midday Friday Beijing time (12 hours ahead of the U.S. east coast) I'll be back in Beijing, my third trip in eight months - but this one, of course, is the big 'un.
And none too soon, given that it's really starting to look like we're going to see a showdown between a host country and the International Olympic Committee over what the host's promises are really worth, now that it's clear that the Internet access at the Olympic press center is subject to the same censorship that China's citizens deal with every day. It's not a surprise that Amnesty International is blocked in China - honestly, that's old news. As is the news that the Great Firewall is quite easily scalable by anyone who knows how to use a proxy server. But the release of the Amnesty report this week was very clever, timed as it was to coincide with the bulk of the Olympic press corps arriving in Beijing. All they had to do was to suggest the media try to access their report from the Olympic press center and whammo: desired effect created. Outrage at the less-than-fully-free conditions that Olympic journalists are going to be subject to in China, despite the promises by Chinese authorities that the international media would enjoy complete freedom to report.
This is a conversation with many facets, which is one reason why I'm going to lay low for a day on this issue and see what develops. I suspect there's a lot going on behind the scenes right now, because the news reports that came out today were truly embarrassing to the IOC and made it look like they were being bullied by China. I suspect the truth is far more nuanced. We'll have to wait and see. Whatever happens, it's clear that we're now living fully in a tale of two Olympics: one on the field of play, the Michael Phelpses of the world going for the gold, and the other the political struggles for the soul of the Games. Do they belong to the world - which would suggest consistent rules for engagement no matter where they're hosted - or do they belong to the host committee, with the power to trump the IOC on critical issues? I'm fascinated by these developments because there is a much bigger story playing out here than any of us can report quite yet. There will be more to this one, I'm sure of it.
As always I welcome your comments, but just to be extra-clear on a day when I'm delving into the political story: No bashing (of China, of any other country, or of any poster on this site). Good, well thought-out discussion is awesome, and I welcome your thoughts on the coming Games in all of its facets.