It doesn't help when the vice president of the International Society of Olympic Historians snorts, "I think the idea that the Olympics shouldn't be politicized is silly."(1)
So right this minute, everyone on the IOC is watching the clock for the start of today's San Francisco Olympic torch rally. Yesterday the IOC announced they were looking for signs about whether to abandon the rest of the international portion of the torch relay. Ostensibly the IOC is worried about broken bones along the torch route:
An IOC official, Director General Urs Lacotte ... said the Olympic organization has been pressuring the Beijing Organizing Committee to redraw the torch relay to limit the potential for violence. The IOC will step in, Lacotte said, the first time a torchbearer is injured or protests become unmanageable - that is the limit.What is the limit after what happened at the Paris protests yesterday? Mass casualties?
"In London, where the torchbearer was accosted by a protester, well, that was very near the limit," he said.(2)
The IOC leaders are not concerned about torch bearers going to the hospital. They're waiting for the Beijing Olympic Committee to stop holding them at gunpoint. This is so they can cancel a public relations disaster for the Olympics by letting the torch relay run only in China, where the country's military will ensure that there are zero protests along the route.
But it's too late to cancel this day.
They've been arriving all week in San Francisco, from all around the United States and Canada, to take part in today's protest of the torch relay, the only time the 2008 Olympics torch will be carried on North American soil. Most of the arrivals aren't professional human rights activists, they're citizens from all walks of life and backgrounds, drawn to the Golden Gate city by the call of conscience.
Ranged against the protesters are various officials doing what could be called the Adaptive Dance.
There is San Francisco's Mayor Gavin Newsom, prodded into ever greater adaptive postures by the city's board of supervisors since three pro-Tibet activists scaled the Golden Gate Bridge and the Paris Torch Melee:
"We anticipate problems here," Newsom told CBS 5 television yesterday. ... Newsom said a six-mile torch route released last week was now likely to be changed and could even be adapted during Wednesday's event.And there's the adaptive Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and representative of the 8th Congressional District of California, which consists of four-fifths of the City and County of San Francisco.
"We will continue to adapt," Newsom said. "This route is not fixed. It will continue to change and it will change up until the torch is passed -- and even during the middle of the route."(3)
I guess it was the Speaker of the House who walked arm-in-arm with the Dalai Lama just a few weeks ago to show sympathy for the plight of the Tibetans, and who proclaimed the Chinese crackdown on Tibetans "a challenge to the conscience of the world."
And I guess it was the San Francisco political representative who declared:
"[T]he Olympics should provide more opportunity for free expression, not less," but who stopped short of speaking in favor of the protest resolution.Such an unequivocal statement of conscience would have offended San Francisco's business community and lobbyists, who see to it that China does big trade with the city.
Authored by San Francisco Supervisor Chris Daly along with Tibetan and Falun Gong activists, the resolution urges the city's representative in the torch ceremony to "make publicly known that the 2008 Summer Games Torch is received with alarm and protest."(1)
Of course there are limits to how much one can upbraid the city's business community for being quite so adaptive, given that the U.S. Department of State saw fit to be adaptive and remove China from the list of most repressive countries -- and just in time for China's crackdown in Tibet last month.
If China had been kept on the list, the city elders would have had the perfect excuse to refuse the Olympic flame's presence.
And that's the way things are, as we await the dawn in San Francisco.
1) Free Tibet vs Free Speech Zones, Mother Jones
2) IOC considers abandoning torch relay's international route, Canwest News Service
3) San Francisco bracing for Olympic flame protests, AFP