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Today, I am annoyed by all the talk of how awful it is that protesters are “ruining” the Olympics with all their stunts aimed at disrupting the Grand Olympic Torch Parade (or whatever they call it) and calling attention to oppression and human rights abuses in China, particularly (in light of recent events) in Tibet.

Oh, yes, of course we live in a democratic society and have freedom of speech – of course you have the right to protest… but must you spoil our torch ceremony? must you sour the Olympics for the thousands, nay millions, of complacent sports fans around the world who just want to watch some running and jumping and stuff? must you undermine, like, the whole Olympic movement by these divisive protests? what would happen if we protested every time the Olympic Games were to be held in a country accused of human rights abuses? every country in the world commits human rights abuses! can’t we all just get along?

Demonstrations and protests and strikes are just fine and dandy, they are a fundamental right in any democratic society, our values of freedom are what make Britain Great…

But only as long as they can easily and safely be ignored, only as long as they don’t cause any annoyance or inconvenience to those who don’t share your concerns, only as long as they are meaningless, pointless and ineffective. Heaven help you if you actually have any impact.

In other words – protesting is only OK if you don’t upset anybody.
In other words – mixing sport and politics is only OK if the host nation does it.
In other words – human rights abuses happen everywhere so just STFU about it, OK?

But it’s not just about whether these protesters have a point or not. I am just incoherent with exasperation at the selfish, short-sighted whingers who complain not particularly that the protesters are wrong in their aims, but that they shouldn’t be protesting at all. No matter how worthy their cause, it cannot justify ruining a (frankly, dumb) torch ceremony. What?!

In any case, personally, if I had the choice between cancelling the whole Olympic Games (never mind just the torch waving preliminaries) forever or stopping human rights abuses in China forever, I think it would be a no-brainer. I would make the trade, and then start to look round for a sporting jamboree that I could cancel to stop FGM.

With China, it’s not just about Tibet: it’s about forced abortion and sterilisation, it’s about massive public corruption, it’s about systemic injustice and lack of access to justice, it’s about censorship and fear and oppression, it’s about the death penalty practised both secretly and on a scale unknown in any other country in the world.

It’s not just about Tibet. But even if it were – large-scale human rights abuses? or a couple of weeks of sport? What level of disconnect does it take for a person to criticise those who protest the fact that China has been given, and is using, a huge PR opportunity whilst at the same time sticking two fingers up at the whole “Olympic values” movement of harmony between peoples? Must we promote harmony by ignoring China’s state-sponsored wrongdoing? Turn a blind eye and everyone will be happy? But isn’t that the whole point? Turn a blind eye to the abuses and the abuses will continue, they will escalate. Turning a blind eye, pretending everything is fine, letting China have its glorious Olympics – it may make us feel less uncomfortable, help us to avoid thinking about where we are and why – but that is, as sure as eggs are eggs, not what the Olympics is, or should be, all about.

And if we are still in Iraq in four years’ time – or still in Afghanistan – or mixed up in some fresh war – we can expect more of the same for London 2012. I hope.

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