Sponsors are next as Beijing foes put forth Olympian effort

Phil Jackman

August 19, 1993|By Phil Jackman

It started out as a trickle six months ago when an organization called Human Rights Watch gasped at how ludicrous it was that Beijing, China, was even being considered by the International Olympic Committee to host the Summer Games in the year 2000.

Beijing, good grief! That's the place where they're still torturing people, thumb screws and shackle boards, stuff right out of a Vincent Price movie.

Of all the cities in the world, why this monument to oppression, suppression and those shocking pictures of slaughter at Tiananmen Square just a few years back?

"The complaints percolated mostly on the sports pages before the editorial pages grasped the stakes involved," said HRW staff attorney Richard Dicker. The outcry has been easy to come by the last several weeks and the roar is increasing.

First, the House of Representatives, then the Senate got involved and resolutions were flying around like fireworks on the Fourth of July. Helping the situation no end was a dodo or two from the IOC dragging out the old saw about politics having no place in sport.

"I'll never forget the IOC's reaction the first time we got in touch," continued Dicker. "We ask the organization to include human rights as a factor when it got around to considering the applicants, pointing out many of the crimes perpetrated by the Chinese on its people, and we got a letter back saying, 'Thanks for the information, but we're not interested.' A form letter."

The HRW and a constantly growing legion of protesters weren't about to be put off so easily, however. Lately, the protest has grown into a full-fledged groundswell and it is producing the desired effect.

"There's been a very noticeable shift in the language and tone used by [IOC] president Juan Antonio Samaranch while discussing the situation and, second, the report of the Inquiry Commission of the IOC contained some tough and very explicit wording regarding Beijing's drawbacks," said Dicker.

Originally, the report of the Inquiry Commission was due in June but was delayed until July, presumably to include "other matters" not conveyed in the technical data. It was about this time the letter from the U.S. Senate arrived questioning the IOC's potential for "rewarding Beijing."

"The Senate letter had no force of law behind it; it was a sentiment, not an order," said the HRW attorney. "It was a respectfully worded suggestion that consideration be given to Beijing's woeful record on human rights. For some in the IOC to take offense to it was either awfully naive or totally hypocritical."

Recall, although that student was able to face down a tank in the middle of Tiananmen on live television back in mid-1989, conservative estimates are that a thousand rights protesters were slaughtered before Beijing mayor Chen Xitong called off his dogs of war. So successful at that job was Chen that this charmer is now chairman of the committee seeking the Games.

Meanwhile, back home, the HRW points out in a recently drafted letter to the chief executive officers of 16 major Olympic sponsors in this country, it's been business as usual in the hidden Gulags of China.

"Professor Peng Yuzang, retired and in his 70s, was arrested in 1989 in Hunan, a province of 55 million in south central China," a confirmed report states.

"In prison, Professor Peng was placed on a shackle board, a horizontal plank roughly the size of a door and equipped with shackles, and kept there for three months. Boards are used throughout Hunan's prison system."

"What we're pointing out to the sponsors in the letter," said Dicker, "is not only their opportunity to be a force for good as far as human rights is concerned, but of how it's in their best corporate interest not to be involved if the situation doesn't improve drastically in China.

"Beijing presents a tremendous opportunity for market access in China, particularly with the 'most favored nation' trade status being extended to the country by President Clinton recently. And these big companies, together with Clinton's insistence that China make progress in human rights, can apply great pressure to get Beijing to clean up its act."

It's another month before the IOC sits down to award the 2000 Games to Beijing, Sydney, Berlin, Brasilia, Istanbul or Manchester, England, "and what looks good at this point," said Dicker, "is the attention that has been raised about the deplorable situation in China. It's the most powerful leverage we can muster, public attention, and the push has to continue."

Next to be heard from will be the sponsors, an impressive group indeed: Coca-Cola, Xerox, Eastman Kodak, Time-Warner, Visa, Federal Express, 3M, Nike, Seiko, etc. Now we're talking a real trump card.

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