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(IN Honolulu Star-Bulletin, April 6, 2008)

By Robert Weiner and John Larmett

China is beginning to reap the rewards of the upcoming Summer Olympics in Beijing—they have just launched what they hope will be celebrations of the traditional Torch Relay on all continents.

The problem is, as soon as the Torch leaves China, the rest of the world will protest China’s inexcusable handling of Tibet, and the Olympic Torch media events will become protest events—because, China will find out, the rest of us believe in free speech.

But Torch protests are not enough. Nor is the growing movement, started by Germany and France, to withhold heads of government and delegations from the Opening Ceremony.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) should exercise the rule under the Olympic Charter, allowing it to “withdraw, at any time and with immediate effect, the organization of the Olympic games from the host city” and relocate this summer’s Games, scheduled for August 8-24, to a recent former Olympic venue such as Athens or Sydney. Both cities are equipped, able and could be quickly readied to host the Summer Games.

In order to win the right to host the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, China held out the promise that human rights would benefit if the event was staged in Beijing. But China has gone back on its word in key areas of human rights in clear violation of the Olympic spirit, with press freedom a notable victim of Beijing’s rights crackdown in Tibet ahead of the Games. The Chinese government has shot and killed over 100 innocent monks, and arrested over 1000, peacefully protesting Beijing’s ruthless suppression of their culture, religion and autonomy. If that weren’t bad enough, the pollution is so bad in Beijing that the world’s top marathoner, Haile Gebrselassie, has already decided that he will not compete.

Concerning the Olympics, China might have gotten away with assisting Darfur because the aid, inexcusable, is economic and one level removed from directly killing people, which the Sudanese government, not the Chinese, have done. They might have gotten away with pawning defective human and pet food, toys and other products to the United States and the world. They might have gotten away with predatory trade practices and the pretense of stating they will ever buy parallel products from the U.S., which has yet to happen. The Olympics are for the athletes, and politics is usually forgotten.

Murdering hundreds and arresting thousands of innocent monks because they want to state their philosophy and their right to freedom rightly has the world’s ire. Yet, canceling the Games would abuse and destroy a key forum that itself sends the message of nonviolent international cooperation. It would also unfairly penalize nearly 11,000 of the world’s athletes, make them innocent victims, and steal the highlight of the careers of most.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on the world March 21st, as she arrived to meet the Dalai Lama at his home in India, to denounce China’s crackdown of anti-government protests in Tibet, calling the crisis “a challenge to the conscience of the world. If freedom loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China and the Chinese in Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak out on human rights,” Pelosi said.

President Bush has pushed hard against the Tibet violence, speaking to President Hu of China by phone last week (March 27) and urging his “reaching out to and addressing the grievance of the people in Tibet.”

Even IOC president Jacques Rogge expressed his concern over the violence in Tibet in a statement released on March 23rd: “The events in Tibet are of great concern to the IOC. This conflict should be resolved peacefully as soon as possible. Violence for whatever reason is contrary to the Olympic values and spirit.”

No one wants to harm the Chinese people – in fact, America and the world love the Chinese people. At the same time, no one wants to hurt the Olympics as a forum for world understanding through the competition and camaraderie of the athletes of over 200 nations. A way the IOC and the world can send a meaningful message to China’s government and protect the Olympic Charter’s mission statement of “encouraging and supporting the promotion of ethics in sport as well as education of youth through sport and to dedicate its efforts to ensuring that, in sport, the spirit of fair play prevails and violence is banned” is to relocate – not boycott – this summer’s Olympic Games.

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Robert Weiner, NATIONAL PUBLIC AFFAIRS AND ISSUES STRATEGIST Bob Weiner, a national issues and public affairs strategist, has been spokesman for and directed the public affairs offices of White House Drug Czar and Four Star General Barry (more...)

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