August 12, 2008

Far From the Glow in China, There Are No Games in Darfur

By DeWayne Wickham

What China wants during these Olympics it cannot be allowed to have. More than anything else, the emerging superpower wants to bask in the glory of its role as host of the quadrennial global sports festival. It wants the worldwide embrace that traditionally has come to nations bestowed this honor.

Of course, such acceptance hasn't always been merited. Nazi Germany hosted the Olympics in August 1936, just 11 months after it stripped German Jews of their citizenship and banned them from marrying blond, blue-eyed Germans. And the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan seven months before Moscow hosted the Olympics in July 1980.

The U.S., which took part in the 1936 Olympics but boycotted the 1980 contest, is represented in China by 596 athletes and George W. Bush, the first U.S. president to attend an Olympic opening ceremony abroad. Bush said it "would be an affront to the Chinese people" if he didn't attend.

He ought to be more concerned about the people of Darfur, the embattled region of Sudan where it's estimated that 300,000 people have been killed and 2.7 million displaced by fighting that has raged in the African country since 2003.

Three years ago, Bush called the attacks by government-backed militias on ethnic minorities in Darfur a "genocide." In July, the International Criminal Court indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on genocide charges and is considering issuing a warrant for his arrest. China is Sudan's biggest arms supplier. If the Sudanese leader were proven to have committed genocide, China -- which gives Sudan the means to carry out this carnage -- would be guilty of complicity.

China's sins

China's unbroken link to the genocide in Darfur should make a lot of people cringe at the legitimacy the Games now taking place in Beijing give the world's largest communist nation. But these days, the centuries-old tradition of the Olympic Truce, where warring factions would suspend fighting during the Games, has been replaced with one of indifference. As the rape and slaughter of people in Darfur go on, the U.S. Olympic team picked a refugee from Sudan -- who is now a U.S. citizen -- to carry this country's flag during the opening ceremony last week.

China had to be relieved that it got off so easily.

The worldview

The world has shown much greater tolerance for genocide in Africa than in Europe. About 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda during a span of a little more than three months in 1994 as the international community did virtually nothing. A token force of peacekeepers from African nations has been dispatched to Darfur but has been unable to stop the bloodshed.

When the former Yugoslavia fractured into warring parts, the response was different. Thousands of U.S. and NATO troops were sent into two breakaway regions -- Kosovo and Bosnia -- to stop ethnic cleansing. They stayed for years to keep the war's smoldering ashes from reigniting.

Without significant pressure from other nations, China has done little to pressure the Sudanese government to end the attacks on the people of Darfur. A serious boycott threat might have gotten China to act in the months leading up to the Olympics, but that didn't happen.

Now that the Games are under way, it is up to the athletes who have descended upon Beijing to find a way to signal their disapproval of China's support of the mass killings in Sudan. Some of them have already rejected such a role by saying that they are athletes, not politicians.

They should be reminded that those who commit genocide recognize no such distinction.

DeWayne Wickham writes on Tuesdays for USA TODAY. (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>