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Beijing: when humanitarian issues and Olympic values collide


Beijing: when humanitarian issues and Olympic values collide

The Beijing Olympics raised questions about the Olympic values, provided the ground for numerous protests and sowed the seeds for change within the International Olympic Committee and Beijing government.

by Ana Adi

China, human rights and Olympic ideals

When the Olympics were awarded to Beijing after its second bid, it was expected that matters of human rights would be brought up by various political and activist groups. After all, allegations that China as a whole did not uphold the Olympic ideals were made about Beijing’s first bid in 1993 and were considered to have contributed to some degree to Beijing’s loss at only 2 votes against Sydney in the organization of the Millennium Games.

Humanitarian debates leading to human rights’ reforms
Similarly, numerous debates about the humanitarian role of Olympics or their support of China’s political system and its aspirations took place before August 2008, the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China (2007) and the European Parliament (2008) being among the institutions that brought up the subject.

To counteract such allegations, there are indications that Chinese officials not only made implied promises that the Games will have a positive impact on human rights in China but also amended the country’s constitution to emphasise such commitment.

Protests and complaints

Despite all these promises and efforts, the international leg of Torch Relay was marked by protests, international journalists and human rights advocacy groups complained about internet censorship and several “clandestine protests” took place around the city during Games time.

The Olympics in crisis
The Olympics faced a crisis, unlike any of the ones it faced before: boycotts, terrorist threats or environmental protection to name a few. It showed an increasing interest from non-sporting bodies into the applicability of humanitarian principles and promises. The Beijing Games brought attention to the need of transparency from the IOC and organising committees in such matters. It also showed that an active dialogue with both the critics and the supporters of the Olympic Movement is highly necessary.

Thoughts about the future
While small steps have been made since then and the IOC has renewed its pledge to its humanitarian promises while also acknowledging its limits, it can be assumed that critical discourses surrounding the Games humanitarian mission are to continue to be seen in future Games editions.

Ana Adi is a Lecturer at Bournemouth University, UK. She is writing about discourses and communication practices surrounding the Olympic Games, public relations and social media. You can find her at


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Ana Adi


Sunday, May 27, 2012 - 23:00