Tuesday, April 08, 2008

In relation to the Relay

At the writing of this piece discussions regarding the fate of the olympic torch relay are in full swing one question seems to dominate: given the recent demonstrations in several cities, notably in Paris and London, will the international relay (that envisages "to unite humanity" in preparation for the Summer Olympic Games) be suspended or not? Moreover, will such relays be held in the future?

Regardless of one's position vis-à-vis the Games and their relevance for our contemporary societies, it goes without a say that such a decision ought not to go unnoticed - what we see here is a series of "clashes" that entangle the politics and policy-making of wide range of stakeholders spanning as they do over politics, society and even sports! Tibet is, of course, central here, as is, the question of China's politics which in turn spills over to the politics of other countries towards China via (or not) the Games! One other conflict that emerges is precisely "how we are doing politics today": we have the "summits" and we have the streets. We have Monsieur Sarkozy demanding that certain "conditions" be met in order for him to attend the Opening Ceremony of the Games, we have major European countries pursuing "round-table diplomacy", we have the Tibetan diaspora communities mobilizing all over the world, we have citizens of different countries calling, amongst others, for pluralism and tolerance. And of course we have the torch which carries the Olympic flame, and not surprisingly, sets many things on fire along the way...

It matters therefore to monitor the events. Not so much for the torch- although many might find canceling the relay hard to swallow- but for the implications and actions that come along, that is, the bigger picture "behind" the torch. Whatever the outcome, whether it involves action or inaction it will be of relevance, for, the mere recognition and the pondering over the torch issue at the level of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) inevitably draws attention to questions that have long been lingering and perhaps occasionally brought to the surface but never really tackled in depth. And the latter is the responsibly of the international community.

In my view, and regardless of what the IOC will decide, there are many ways that the international community could "go about" [in dealing with the important issues] but also a danger of "not doing anything about" the issues that are at stake here by, say, opting out, covering up or perhaps by resorting to some flowery speeches or promises for "the years to come". And that would be an opportunity missed and a grave mistake at the same time. For, ultimately, what lies behind the torch, behind Tibet, behind "street and office" politics are profound questions about democracy and the meaning of this thousand-year-old term in the context of our contemporary societies. And such questions do require answers.

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