World leaders have Olympic opportunity

Few events receive the level of hype that the Olympic Games generate. The attention paid to the selection process and the host city’s preparations are followed as closely as a horse race election. And for good reason.

The games bring hundreds of millions of dollars to the host and act as a showcase for the country’s culture. The other side of that coin is that they also bring with them increased scrutiny. This year is no different as China prepares to host the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

However, the pomp and circumstance that the Chinese government has been preparing is being marred by unrest in Tibet where monks and other ethnic Tibetans have been protesting Chinese rule since March 10, the 50th anniversary of the uprising that resulted in the Dalai Lama’s exile.

Claims about the violence differ. Notably, Tibetan authorities emphasize deaths they claim are a result of Chinese aggression, and official media in Bejing highlight violence against ethnic Chinese peoples perpetuated by protesters in the inflamed regions.

As the conflict rages, Chinese authorities find themselves in the uncomfortable position of quelling domestic violence while simultaneously trying to persuade the world that progress is being made on the human rights front. Adding to the pressure are politicians, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who are becoming increasingly vocal in their calls for change.

And so they should.

In October 2007, a U.N. resolution called upon “all Member States to cooperate with the International Olympic Committee in its efforts to use sport as an instrument to promote peace, dialogue and reconciliation in areas of conflict during and beyond the Olympic Games period.”

Even though the Olympics are an opportunity for the peoples of the world to come together in the spirit of athletic competition, the leaders of the world have a responsibility to continue to push China to adopt reforms, beginning with allowing independent observers and journalists to assess the violence in Tibet for themselves.

It is obvious that the status quo is acceptable to no one. Not the Tibetan protesters who want freedom, not Chinese authorities who want the Olympic Games to proceed unblemished, not world leaders pushing for reform, not journalists and certainly not Chinese citizens whose access to information about the conflict is filtered.

When the world’s athletes gather in Beijing, their performances should be matched by those of their leaders in calling for peace, openness and freedom.