To celebrate their “coming out” party as Olympic hosts this month, the Chinese have invested an astonishing $40 billion to remake Beijing as a symbol of their country’s modernity. China built three new underground subway lines in the city, as well as the stunning “Bird’s Nest” Olympic stadium, whose grandeur some are comparing to the Roman Colosseum. Yet despite this impressive face-lift, said Victor Mallet in the Financial Times, “a sour mood” now hangs over Beijing, like its ever-present smog. In recent weeks, “neurotic” Chinese authorities have cracked down on dissidents and are throwing protestors in jail, shutting down “decadent” nightclubs, and restricting the movement and reporting of foreign journalists. With 100,000 soldiers and police looking over everyone’s shoulder, the 2008 Summer Olympics are shaping up to be “the No-Fun Games.”
If you think the mood is sour now, said Filip Bondy in the New York Daily News, just wait until the competition starts. Don’t be surprised if many winners turn up positive for performance-enhancing drugs. An Olympic gold medal now can bring so much fame and money to athletes that many of them are willing to risk disqualification by taking human growth hormone, steroids, and designer drugs. And don’t be surprised if the judging is just as dishonest. In their current nationalistic fervor, the Chinese expect their athletes to win a host of gold medals, which may lead to an epidemic of “hometown” judging. Let’s face it: Amid all the cheating, political repression, and blatant nationalism, “the Olympics will never be the same.”
To what golden age do you refer? asked John Hoberman in Foreign Policy. Despite all the sentimental claptrap about “the spirit of the Games,” the modern Olympics have always been little more than “a highly commercial sports spectacle” tainted by corruption and politics. Consider the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, presided over by Hitler as a tribute to Nazism. Or the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, during which a one-party government mowed down 300 protesters. Or the Moscow Olympics in 1980, staged by a rancid regime that largely emptied the city of its population, lest their hopelessness embarrass communism. If the Chinese do, in fact, host a “No-Fun Olympics,” it certainly won’t be the first.