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Beijing Olympics will go down as China’s failed attempt to use, misuse sport for political propaganda

Try they did, even boorishly getting a soldier from Galwan to run the torch relay, but this time, China might've overplayed its hand. Turning sport into a sideshow, while hard selling their politics, might well have backfired in Beijing's 14-year-itch.

Tokyo last summer, in comparison, stayed understated as hosts, allowing sport to breathe.

The Winter Olympics wrapped up without any severe pile-up. But despite the most controlled outflow of information from the Games venue, the enduring legacy of Beijing 2022 will be of political calculation gone awry. Despite re-assertions from China about politics and boycotts not spoiling their Games, the lingering vibe from the postcard perfect venues will still be of a highly politicised sporting event that just couldn’t front and centre the sport.

China’s inability to address global concerns about tennis star Peng Shuai’s claims of sexual assault against a high-ranking party official, despite allowing access to a French news platform, showed why the hosts couldn’t pull off a Beijing 2008 encore of controlling every frame that the world watched. In fact, the chilling censorship, where not one voice of dissent could rise above the snow-blowers, only underlined that China could and would exert control over even their biggest tennis star, dictate every word she spoke, and control every move she made in the public eye. The silence of other athletes was loud. Beyond Peng, the row over Russian teenage ice skater Kamila Valieva’s uncertain doping status dragged on through the entirety of the Games, overshadowing the event itself. In fact, winter Beijing’s most glaring miss will be how completely overpowering was the stench of politics on sporting action, which might have risen to great heights, but simply couldn’t wrest back the headlines. Tokyo last summer, in comparison, stayed understated as hosts, allowing sport to breathe.

The Winter Olympics in Beijing will go down as China’s failed attempt to use and misuse sport for political propaganda. Try they did, even boorishly getting a soldier from Galwan to run the torch relay, but this time, China might’ve overplayed its hand. Turning sport into a sideshow, while hard selling their politics, might well have backfired in Beijing’s 14-year-itch.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on February 22, 2022 under the title ‘Politics, not sport’.

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First published on: 22-02-2022 at 03:20 IST
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