Beijing 2008: Under The Red Shadow

Rafael Román Martel

The Fall of Communism in 1989 made many dreams possible. The unification of Germany. The creation of new nations that now flourish under democracy. The freedom of millions of people that can travel around the world and participate in all kinds of competitions, including sports. Tennis has been one of the big beneficiaries of the fall of the Evil Wall that divided the free world from the slavery where millions suffered for most of the XX Century. Thanks to the new wave of freedom, we see young men and women from all corners of the former Soviet Union and the rest of the countries once colonized by the Bolsheviks, traveling the world and winning championships. Three of the top tennis players are Serbian, before 1989 a colony of Marshall Tito’s Communist regime. The invasion of Russians, Slovaks, Croats, and citizens of the liberated countries is a strong statement on behalf of freedom. It is under the wings of freedom that these young athletes have become world champions. From boxing to tennis and the vast array of sports where they are distinguishing themselves, the freedom factor is key.

While those that are now liberated reap the benefits of democracy, totalitarian regimes continue to ostracize and persecute their athletes. Cuba has already warned their athletes for the upcoming Olympics games. China, the host country, expelled from the national team a group of athletes for “political” reasons.

Totalitarian regimes use sports as a political platform to support the one-party system’s “achievements” in exchange for the slavery of millions of its citizens, who look up to their athletes in a different way than we do in the United States. In totalitarian countries, where daily struggle for the most basic needs is a constant worry, people see their athletes as a sign of hope, a false sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, in the midst of the leader’s rejoicing in the euphoria of victory, their situation could take a turn for the better, even if it’s only temporary.

In less than a week the Games will start amidst controversy and political upheaval. Most athletes are apolitical. In Cuba’s case there have been political manifestations from athletes yet, under the pressure, vigilance and the constant reminder that their families were left behind as a form of psychological kidnapping, only they know how sincere their comments are. We can only trust the word of people who are not afraid to speak. In Communist countries most people are afraid to speak. It’s not just a paranoia, bad things might happen to you if your opinion differs from the Communist Party’s doctrine.

China will sell its best face to the world. Significant changes have taken place since the days of Mao’s radical purges. Today the human rights issues many of its citizens confront taint these Olympics, and the Tibetan situation, among others, will most probably politicize the Games in a very different way than if they were celebrated in a free country.

The open door policy started by President Richard Nixon in February of 1972 has paid its dividends. These Olympics will be the most diverse, and also one where most participating countries have joined the Democratic Revolution. In an era where Hope is the overriding sentiment and Change a real possibility, let’s hope for the best in China 2008.

Even with our concerns and disagreements with the current political system in the most populated country in the world, we hold the most sincere aspirations that the Games take its course under a spirit of peace and unity, always looking at the better side: sports.


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