Olympics must train a new light on China’s dark secrets
Thursday November 24, 2005
When my five-year-old puts on her ballet costume every Wednesday after school and I take her round to the church hall, my heart melts. She’ll never be the dying swan but when she is in the mood, she loves it. Matthew Pinsent reported from Beijing for Five Live last week on gymnasts as young as five being subjected to beatings in the regime’s quest for success. When these children are not in the mood, they know about it.
But why are we surprised that China is using punishments that were finally made illegal in state schools in 1987, while we seem to ignore a penal system that would have shamed the Victorians?
Well, just as Stalin and Mao had idiotic left-wing western apologists who forgave, forgot and scandalously ignored “necessary evils” in the name of social progress, now we have free marketeers and political realists getting hot and horny at economic progress, closing their eyes to the horrors and opening their wallets for crumbs from the bulging Chinese table. Hypocrisy and ideology are fellow travellers.
There are cultural apologists too. Some say the deep-rooted Taoist mindset is inimical to western individualism. That’s a cop-out. As the Chinese academic Lu Yi Yi, research fellow at Chatham House’s Royal Institute of International Affairs, told me: “These aren’t western values, they are universal.”
Roger Draper from Sport England responded to what Pinsent had starkly called child abuse. “It’s a very different culture,” he said, “but in the UK we draw a line in the sand.” Well, thankfully the sand will not now be in Tiananmen Square. The Chinese authorities have been persuaded by the IOC to hold the beach volleyball elsewhere.
My BBC colleague Gordon Farquhar remembers walking across that square with a bunch of journalists, a Sky camera crew and members of the local bidding committee when the plain-clothes policemen suddenly appeared from nowhere to jostle and hassle. “How on earth,” Gordon asks, “will they respond in 2008 to the challenging behaviour of 20,000 of us?”
Maybe the Chinese government got caught up in the buzz of the bid and rush of success when they won, without fully appreciating exactly what is going to hit them. At first they tried to tell the IOC that journalists would only be allowed into the country to cover sport but the IOC, which in this light looks like a paragon of democratic virtue and accountability, told them to get on their nine million Beijing bicycles.
Consequently, a country that less than 50 years ago saw 30 million die in the lunacy of Mao’s man-made famine will have to endure an influx of enquiring minds, all infected with the incurable western hunger for truth or, failing that, bloody good stories. I love it.
There is a conundrum looming for the Chinese leadership. They currently block the BBC news website, so how on earth are visitors going to be able to log on freely during their time in Beijing?
I asked the culture secretary Tessa Jowell about this. “It is unacceptable,” she said. She has raised the issue with various Chinese officials.“The answer was somewhat obscure. They said it was a matter of technology, not intentions.”
Right, I see. That’s cleared that one up. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were to be a six-week window of information freedom for the whole country and a chance to, in Mao’s phrase, “Let a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend?” Not that the old waxwork ever did.
I asked Matthew whether, in the light of what he had seen, he regretted the decision to give the Games to China. “It’s too late now,” he said. Lu Yi Yi is more hopeful. “However small, this will be a further continuation of progress, giving more access to the outside world. Don’t forget the leadership hates being criticised,” she said. They ain’t seen nothing yet.
Hanging out at HQ with the Barbour-shop choirs - a code-breaker’s confession
My dad used to call the late Peter West everything under the sun when the veteran BBC man referred to Twickenham as HQ. His was the world of Murrayfield lounge bars, plush tartan carpets, the aroma of gin and billowing clouds of cigar smoke. Recently I have been experimenting with something that would make him turn in his grave. Something tantamount to an abandonment of faith. Something that makes Peter “HQ” West pale into insignificance. I have been getting into rugby league.
It is peculiar how people reared on each game so often think the other code is manifestly monotonous. Objectivity is a big ask because it is down to what you know and never the merits of the game per se. The cold war is over but many league fans are still deeply suspicious of union, regarding it as the spawn of Satan. They have their reasons. They protest that it was forbidden to play league in the armed forces until 10 years ago thus sabotaging the globalisation of their beloved game and that - I love this one - in Nazi-occupied France the Vichy puppet government supported establishment union at the expense of egalitarian pro-resistance league and that “that tells you all you need to know”. So to HQ, last Saturday.
Hordes of well-heeled Barbour-clad believers were heading to hospitality lounges and the RFU shop which, for some reason, was blasting out the Eton Boating Song. And then, inside the cathedral, the Barbour-shop choir’s massed rendition of God Save the Queen seemed to summon up the ghosts of empire. It’s not surprising that no one sells Socialist Worker outside.
The game was good and England played heroically well against the best side on the planet but I wondered what a being from another planet would have made of it (“Great, when there was actually something happening, which wasn’t that often”). I went home and put on Sky for the Tri-Nations. It was great, and there was always something happening. Forgive me father, I have sinned.
Brown crosses the floor to beat Blair to World Cup
Launching his World Cup feasibility study, Gordon Brown assembled a press conference at a McDonald’s coaching event (don’t start me) in east London. Tony delivered the Olympics so Gordon, of course, wants to go one better. The political earthquake had already happened, though. Earlier that morning on GMTV Brown effectively crossed the floor. It was an extraordinary defection as it was totally unexpected. “We haven’t won the World Cup for 40 years,” he said. Gordon, they won it and we beat them 3-2 at Wembley the next year.
As good as it got for Keane
Roy Keane doesn’t suffer fools gladly so he will be furious with himself. He blew it and he knows he did. Mind you, I would love to have seen Sir Alex’s face when, as reported, Roy started shouting the odds about the Rock Of Gibraltar affair. The variegated shades of red, pink, purple and puce would have been spectacular and, in their way, very beautiful (if you like lava lamps). “You know where you are with Roy,” David Beckham said. I am sure he is right. Like the misanthropic Jack Nicholson character in As Good As It Gets, if he thinks it, he says it.
The upshot? A sad day for Keane. If he does go to Celtic it will be good crack watching that mollifying presence at the boiling heart of an Old Firm match, but how will he feel when he is bossing the midfield against Falkirk and calling the shots at Livingston? The Theatre of Dreams really was as good as it gets.