Space to Think

So thinking can develop

Leaving politics to polititians? What?

Did I hear right? On an interview on Radio New Zealand National about the appropriateness and possibility of protest by athletes at the Beijing Olympics, NZ distinguished olympian and local body polititian, Dick Quax, reflected on his own experience, and then spoke about expectations of those attending Beijing.

He said (something like), “While they are there they will be concentrating on the sport that they are there for.  … NZ … aren’t sending people to China to protest about what is going on in Tibet … the expectation [of the New Zealand public and those who support the athlete]  will be that they do well at the Olympics.   What I would expect … that they go over there to do their best for their country on the sporting field and leave the polititics to the polititians.”  (emphasis mine)

What a dangerous and odd point of view.

Quite apart from the absurdity of Dick Quax imagining that no part of NZ society expects its representatives at the Olympics to hold and express views critical of the Chinese government in relation to Tibet (and other matters), and quite apart from his implied narrow view of what it would mean to “do well” at the Olympics; Quax seems to be suggesting that politics is not the business of citizens.

Of course the other extreme is that politics is far too important to be left to polititians.  I think that is true, although I do not mean this as a put-down of polititians; it is simple an affirmation that politics is about, and the business of, all of us.  Indeed China there has been a tradition of politics being seen as the exclusive realm of those in power; but we do not support that view of the world in NZ, and we should not expect our international sporting representatives to forget their democratic and justice values just because they are in Beijing for their sport.

I do completely understand that some athletes will simply focus on their event and neither consider nor comment on issues of politics or justice.  That is their right and it is easily understood when a person has prepared for the Olympics as their focus for several years.  The athletes did not choose for the Olympics to be hosted by China, they are simply participating in what for many will be a once in a life-time event that could be anywhere.

But to justify that focus on sport by proposing some principle that politics should be left to polititians is to dishonour all who work for change within NZ, within China and throughout the world.   We simply must not leave politics to polititians, and we normally don’t in this country.  We elect polititians, we lobby polititians and we hold polititians accountable.   We also recognise that we are each ethical beings with personal and collective choices that can make a difference.  All of that is politics.  Dick Quax, chose to focus on the sport in isolation if you wish, but don’t undermine the political ecosystem that includes robust protest and considered participation and that provides the context of freedom for you and your fellow athletes.

It was heartening that the programme on which Quax voiced his opinion also had other voices that recognised that some athletes would make other choices, and that the Beijing Olympics could not be isolated from the political context in China and the world.

It is also heartening to hear of some athletes (in Australia at least) seeking information and resources in preparation for their visit to Beijing.

The Australia Tibet Council said it had had inquiries from some current team members as to how they could best protest China’s treatment of Tibet.

The radio interview with Quax and others can be found (at least for a while) as an mp3 download or podcast, here.


July 20, 2008 - Posted by | politics | , , , ,

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