MANILA, APRIL 15, 2008
(STAR) SPORTS FOR ALL By Philip Ella Juico - It’s just a feature of modern day sports that politics in its various forms finds its way into sports administration and governance. In our own backyard, we have the unfortunate situation of businessman-sportsman-philanthropist Manuel V. Pangilinan expressing disgust at the political maneuverings of parties who apparently wish to take over the reins of the BAP-SBP, of which he is president. Pangilinan’s assumption to the presidency of the basketball body was in response to the clamor of well-meaning basketball stakeholders who wanted fresh faces who do not have political baggage and can do the sport a lot of good.

The local situation had become so messy that even the FIBA, the international basketball federation, had to step in and shepherd the process of putting order by, among others, forging a compromise solution that accommodated all parties. After a period of relative peace, at least on the surface, now comes renewed agitation about who should head the BAP-SBP, apparently triggered by the fact that elections are just around the corner.

Certainly, as a country, we stand to lose again from these controversies. The only beneficiaries of all these would be those who just wish to create trouble and our competitors who are amused at our inability to put our act together.

Internationally, the biggest sports-politics controversy on a much larger and more complicated scale would be the Beijing Olympics.

As the countdown to the 2008 Summer Olympics continues and as the Olympic torch makes its way around the world, a resurgent China looks forward to using the Games as its international debut with the slogan “One World, One Dream.”

Since Beijing won the right to host the Games in 2001, after losing the 2000 event to Sydney in 1993, the Chinese have been plagued with criticisms on issues ranging from China’s poor record on human rights, lack of serious concern for the environment and sustainable development, its controversial economic investment in Sudan notwithstanding the Sudanese government’s role in the Darfur crisis which has claimed the lives of thousands of people and its occupation of Tibet.

If the tortuous route of the Olympic torch is any indication, it would appear that the Olympic hosts are in for more hairy moments.

Shortly after China made public the route of the torch, Taiwan accused Beijing of political machinations by treating the island as part of the domestic leg of the journey. Beijing in return accused Taiwan of reneging on an agreement about the route reached a month earlier.

In what seems to have been a response to all these criticisms, China released an action plan which, according to Carin Zissis, staff writer of the Council on Foreign Relations, included commitments related to economic and social development, environmental protection and governance. Beijing pledged in its Olympic strategy “to be open in every aspect to the rest of the country and the whole world.”

Despite these assurances, Zissis says that some experts wonder to what degree critics can pressure Beijing on issues of human rights and territorial sovereignty. “It’s clear any reforms will be limited by the key political imperative to maintain political and social control,” says Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China.

The larger question is whether the Olympics will merely serve to enhance China’s public relations or produce any meaningful lasting effects, according to Zissis. Amnesty International says that, despite some progress on the death penalty and media freedoms for foreigners, the Chinese have stepped up repressive measures against domestic reporters.

In the meantime, many countries have joined International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge in ruling out a Tibet-linked boycott of the Games in August. The head of the IOC rejected the idea of a boycott saying such a move would only penalize the athletes.

Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates was said to have agreed with Rogge. The Russian foreign ministry said the Tibet issue was an “internal matter” for Beijing. The European Union ministers, according to the Associated Press and Agence France Presse, said sports should not be linked to such a political issue and that previous Olympic boycotts have already shown what limited impact they have.

At this point, the environment seems to be enveloped by an ill at ease feeling among those who definitely want sport to be disentangled from politics and yet know only too well that the Games are meant to boost the Chinese government’s popularity at home among its 1.2 billion people and its image abroad. In short, the Olympics hosts, like any other host of an event of this magnitude, is making a political statement by the mere act of hosting the Olympics and therefore also using sport for political advantage.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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