It has become quite popular, in the now much heralded blogosphere as well as in the old media of the Western world, to criticize, often harshly, the Chinese and the decision to grant them the rights to host the Olympic Games in Beijing.
Some of those critics are definitely legitimate. The Chinese government is not better than other governments across the world, and no one could be happier than me to see socialist regimes collapse, as they all do eventually. We could all use more freedom and respect for differences.
But, it is also legitimate to praise the Chinese will to please us, in the United States, when they do.
I guess that if you made it to this page, it is because you enjoy the Games and probably watch the swimming finals every night. And, you will agree, they have been pretty fantastic so far. Who would have thought that a swimming relay could generate so much excitement? Beating the French is always a source of great pride, that’s understandable.
But have you thought about the fact that the race took place at 5 in the morning in France and 11, that same morning, in Beijing? The only reason why you had the chance and pleasure to enjoy it “live on prime time,” (at least on the east coast) is because the IOC and the BOCOG (Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad) agreed to schedule the swimming finals in the morning.
They also moved the gymnastic finals and that is a bigger deal. Gymnastic is a major sport in China. Li Ning, who won six medals at the Los Angeles Olympic games in 1984, was chosen to ignite the cauldron during the Opening Ceremony. The men’s Chinese team claimed the gold medal yesterday, at the end of a competition that started at 10 in the morning. And trust me, 10 am is no prime time in China.
But this sets a precedent. A dangerous precedent? Only time will tell. All we can do for now is imagine what it could be like in the future when China has become the true commercial superpower that many fear today.
The NBA is big in China. Yao Ming doesn’t receive all his All-Star votes from Houston Rockets fans. Most of them come straight from China, over the internet, after all. A few years from now, CCTV, promising 900 million viewers, may ask the NBA commissioner to have the All-Star Game played at 9 in the morning in New York, on Saturday. Who would refuse to expose its product to nearly 1 billion people? (It would be 3 in the afternoon in Western Europe). Certainly not the NBA. You imagine the Garden going crazy at 9 in the morning?
But it would be very ungrateful of us to even think about complaining.
But don’t worry too much. It is very unlikely to happen. The NBA All-Star Game will be played in Shanghai, China before Lakers fans have to get up at 6 in the morning to watch it live from New York.
Anyway, for now, I say thank you China.