The Olympic torch arrived in San Francisco so that runners could carry it through the city after crowds protesting China’s human rights record in Paris and London forced organizers to douse the flame twice—a rare occurence. China accused Tibetan separatists of violating the spirit of the Olympics by disrupting the ceremonial relay leading up to the Summer Games in Beijing. The International Olympic Committee is for the first time considering cutting short the relay that proceeds the Games, or changing the flame’s route to avoid protests. (The New York Times, free registration)
What the commentators said
“Three cheers for the protesters!” said the Madison, Wisc., Capital Times in an editorial. “They refused to allow China to use the Olympics as a fig leaf to cover the shame of its human rights abuses.” And their attempt to douse the torch with water as it passed through Paris “was absolutely appropriate.”
It was absolutely wrong to treat people as rioters for standing up for human rights, said Jean D’Ormesson in France’s Le Figaro, but putting out the torch accomplishes nothing. The damage was done the moment Beijing was awarded the 2008 Olympics. “The only way to get out of this situation now with as little damage as possible” is to put sports above politics and let the Games proceed, but to move forward with the “firm resolution” to commit with all our force to help “the cause of the Tibetans and human rights” outside of the context of the Olympics.
“Judging by the elaborate preparations by protesters” for the San Francisco leg of the relay, said Aileen McCabe in the Montreal Gazette, “the worst is yet to come for the symbolic flame.” In fact, China will probably continue to be embarrassed until May 5, when the flame arrives in China and the “authoritarian government has the ability to guarantee a triumphant passage through most parts of its far-flung territory.” Until mid-June, when the torch arrives in Tibet. Then, “even with a massive security presence, Beijing may be hard pressed to maintain the harmony envisioned in its Olympic slogan: One World, One Dream.”