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Bigalke
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It seemed crazy at first. Beijing is among the worst-polluted cities in the world. The Chinese government said all would be clear by the time the Olympics began. But even as cars were being pulled from thoroughfares and factories shut down operations, as canister after canister of various ionic particles were shot into the clouds overhead in our modern society's answer for a rain dance, doubts lingered over the safety of athletes' health in such acrid air. Yesterday, reported Sports Illustrated, cooling winds and light rains finally fell on the city, reducing the particulates in the air to the lowest quantity since the drastic measures began being employed. The opening of the Olympic Village on Sunday came amidst gray haze, obscuring the view of the buildings both near and far...

 

It still seems crazy. I remember hearing as early as last year that this climate was not conducive to strenuous physical efforts. When the UCI and IOC jointly held an elite invitational test race among the world's elite mountain bikers last September to test out the course design and offer suggestions for improvement, only a handful of the world's greatest athletes in their sport were able to finish the course. World champion Julien Absalon was seen vomiting on the side of the road, just weeks removed from his rainbow-jersey winning ride. So to hear that any progress is being made is reassuring... yet I remain skeptical. The weather may be cooperative now, but at the same time Chinese and IOC officials will be hoping for clear skies from the 8th through the 24th. It seems that rain is required to keep the rampant pollution down, which will prevent the running of many outdoor events. The Olympic Games are caught in a Catch-22, simultaneously craving rain to quell the pollution and for sunshine to provide a stunning backdrop for the world's assembled media...

 

But the most unsettling thing I've heard lately is that the media which will be assembling in Beijing will see its access to the internet restricted. The Washington Post reported today that both the IOC and the Chinese government have acknowledged that reporters' access to internet sited deemed politically sensitive will be restricted by the Chinese, going against a pledge to provide free and open exchange that was given when the Games were granted. Now the Chinese are free to do what they want among their populace... that is their prerogative and I am not about to get into political discourse here. The problem is that Beijing made a lot of promises to be given the honor of hosting the Games of the XXIX Olympiad and now, with the Games mere days away, they are being given the freedom to renege on just about anything they want. Sure, a sports reporter at first glance doesn't need to be looking at political screeds to cover the Olympics. But the most important angles in the best sports writing are very rarely centered around the action on the field of competition...

 

To restrict access for reporters is to handcuff them in their jobs. Further, it goes against the very reasoning by which Beijing was granted the Games ahead of Toronto, Paris, Istanbul and Osaka back in Moscow at the 112th IOC Session on 13 July 2001. Seven years ago China made many concessions -- the loosening of freedoms for its populace, the scaleback of human-rights violations, the pledge to clean up its environment, and yes, the pledge to grant international reporters free and uncensored access to resources. With the opening ceremonies bearing down, we know that human-rights abuses continue unhindered and unpunished. We know that the pollution problem is a day-to-day worry. Now the Chinese government continues to relapse further and further into its inward ways, tightening the clamp and exerting its control and further weakening the legitimacy of the Games in the process. A weak IOC is one that is powerless to take a stand and stick to it...

 

But some things are good as we near the Olympic festivities. Nike has agreed to allow its contracted swimmers to wear Speedo's new and controversial LZR Racer suit for the Games. The suit, released earlier this year amid great fanfare, has been on the bodies of swimmers as world records tumbled over and over again this spring. Nike, recognizing when it has been beaten fair and square in its pool-technology research and development, has granted its athletes the right to seek their best competitive advantage... even if it means going with a competitor's superior design. The LZR Racer has been much villified since its introduction, but technology in every sport must advance -- that is the nature of our world. If we are not growing and expanding, we are recessing. Hopefully this jarring realization which has swept Nike along with Speedo's other competitors will force these other companies to get innovative and find ways to challenge the LZR at its own game...

 

And word has also come down that the IOC has reinstated four of Iraq's seven Olympic athletes. Reversing its ban set down in May due to political interference in Iraq's national Olympic committee, the IOC is allowing two track and field athletes and a mens' double sculls team to compete. Ali Adnan, an Iraqi archer, also has the chance to potentially compete should there be a withdrawal from the field. It is good to see IOC hypocrisy coming to an end; if they are unwilling to take a hard-line stance against China, then it little behooves the committee to take such measures against beleaguered Iraq. Sports offer a slight respite from the destitution and chaos which reign over the war-torn nation. As we saw with the Iraqi soccer team taking the 2007 AFC Asian Cup, success can transcend differences in political and religious ideology to bring together disparate populaces in celebration. May Iraq taste some semblance of success in Beijing... though for the average citizen suffering in Hamdania or Mosul or Kirkuk or Ramadi or Baghdad, just getting to see those athletes march into the Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremonies will be victory enough already... because that is what the Olympics are all about -- moving beyond ideologies to meet on a level playing field, to inspire greater collaboration among nations. 

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