"A More Open China Awaits the 2000 Olympics," promise banners and signs all over the city of Beijing. The world will find out tomorrow if the International Olympic Committee is in a buying mood.
Anita DeFrantz, who holds the lone U.S. vote on the 90-member IOC making the decision on which of six cities will host the XXVII Olympiad, says: "I can't call it [the vote]," and backs up her statement by indicating she still isn't sure which city she's going to vote for (initially).
It's no secret who is leading the dissent against Beijing, the U.S. Congress and various human rights organizations here. But it doesn't stop there. The Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet, which was forcibly annexed by China three decades ago, decries a "totalitarian regime" being accorded such an honor.
To show good faith as decision day drew near, the Chinese government has been releasing dissidents from prison, sometimes as many as two at a time.
So far, it has been little more than a gesture. The prisons are literally full to the skylights.
What must be recalled here, however, is that the 2000 Games are seven years away and, if China maintains reasonable behavior and progress with regard to human rights, think of the good.
DeFrantz, an Olympian herself, speaks the committee line when she says, "as you know, the IOC cares about human-rights issues, and we certainly talk about it. One thing I tried to make clear in my testimony before Congress is that all of us [in the IOC] vow to take a vote that is free of political and commercial influences. All of us are bound by that oath."
While this might sound a tad high-falutin', the IOC came out smelling like a rose when it went against conventional wisdom at the time and selected Seoul, South Korea, for the 1988 Olympics back in 1981.
The country had a sweetheart named Chun Doo-hwan calling the shots at the time and he was virtually helpless to suppress pro-democracy protests (mainly by students) as the Games approached. Worse (for him anyway), Chun was banned from attending the Opening Ceremonies by the man he had appointed president of the organizing committee.
Maybe Seoul's being selected for the Games by the IOC had nothing to do with the end of semi-dictatorship in South Korea. But arguments boosting the theory are impressive since the country was able to establish diplomatic relationships with scores of countries just 25 years after the Korean War, and it's apparent that sport was the channel of communication making it all possible.
Additionally, look at the huge softening the "Hermit Kingdom," North Korea, has undergone, perhaps as a result of this completely closed society having a chance to view close up people coming together in relative trust and good fellowship.
Chief political spokesman against Beijing's being selected has been Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey. The former basketball star and Olympian points out that "China has made no serious effort to improve the situation [human rights record]."
He allows that trade and contact with China under favored-nation status is good, but that awarding the Olympics to Beijing "constitutes an honor much more than a force for liberalization. It is not deserved."
The USOC lobbied mightily against congressional resolutions, which means it remains a member in good standing with the power types of the IOC.
The mayor of Beijing, Zhung Baifa, made a boo-boo threatening China would boycott the 1996 Games in Atlanta if the U.S. Congress continued to try to sway the voters, but this was quickly corrected by cooler heads on the organizing committee.
Ironically, some high-ranking officials in the one remaining Communist country with any influence think Beijing isn't ready for the Games, citing a weak infrastructure and general services not up to requirements. On the other hand, 29 of 38 competition sites built to specification are in place and construction on a 100,000-seat main stadium would begin yesterday if Beijing wins the bid.
Sydney, Australia, looms as a serious contender for the 2000 Games, but votes by the IOC are often unpredictable. For instance, Atlanta came out of the weeds for a surprising victory for the '96 Games and folks are still trying to figure out how Lillehammer, Norway, latched onto next year's Winter Olympics. The whole process will not be effected in just one ballot.
Fittingly, the decision is being made in Monte Carlo, a place well known for rolling dice.