Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tech, Money & Sports: The Beijing Olympics, Part 2, the cen**red edition

Far be it from me, an ordinary blogger that's now part of the OOLF Empire, to complain about the near jaw-dropping hypocrisy and outright lies perpetrated by the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee (BOCOG) in its efforts to get the 2008 Summer Olympics. They lied to the world and the International Olympic Committee about human rights, freedom and accessibility for individuals to reign relatively free at these Games (although you really do have to wonder if anyone really thought the Chinese government would actually follow through on its promises to begin with).

But this time, BOCOG has another ally in its efforts to censor these games: the IOC itself.

As reported throughout the world the last few days, BOCOG has censored Internet access for foreign journalists attending the Beijing Games and has limited open web access to "Olympic Competitions," which is really the Chinese government saying to the world: Sure, you can have unrestricted access to the Web here, just as long as it has nothing to do with the Fulan Gong, Tibet, pro-democracy movements, human rights suppression, et al.

It's true the IOC is taking the coward's way out here by siding with BOCOG, but really, is anyone truly surprised the IOC - full of former corporate czars, autocrats and plutocrats that wouldn't know democratic ideals from a hole in the ground - would take this position? Censoring the Web for foreigners is practically a given at these Games, especially given the potential for foreign (read: Western) reporters to circumvent the Communist Party's efforts to keep all the unpleasant elements of the People's Republic out of the spotlight. After all, how can those foreigners possibly be trusted to toe the government line, they say.

Bearing in mind, most governments, democratic or not, are terrified of the potential of the Web in empowering its citizens and informing them on the government's ongoings. This is nothing especially new. What is new is how an Olympic Organizing Committee is now openly defying its mandate of uncensored web access with less than two weeks before the Games start. It's called the bait-and-switch.

More to the point, it all fits in with the IOC's craven, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil approach to world politics and the Olympics. I say craven because, in truth, no sporting competition is above politics. The IOC knew back in 2001, as it does now, the Beijing Games were never about amateur sports. It's all about brand expansion for the Olympics and its corporate sponsors. Plain and simple.

Oh, just in case there's any Beijing-bound journalists reading this blog, here's a nifty tool to beat the Great Firewall of China: Psiphon, a tool developed by the good folks at the Munk Centre at the University of Toronto. Once you're there, find some local, engaged Chinese citizens interested in freedom of expression. You can provide them uncensored web access once you leave Beijing. Just read the instructions.

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