Why I don’t cover the Propaganda Games in Beijing

Under the guise of COVID, a thousand things are tightened up and arbitrarily adapted in China, just as it suits the state and party leader Xi Jinping, holder of the Olympic Order, and his IOC business partners. Of course, freedom of the press is not guaranteed there.

Geschäftspartner, Freunde im Geist: Thomas Bach, Xi Jinping. (Foto: Beijing 2022)
Geschäftspartner, Freunde im Geist: Thomas Bach, Xi Jinping. (Foto: Beijing 2022)

Normally, for most of the Winter and Summer Games I have covered so far, thirteen times in total, I started my coverage exactly one week before the Opening Ceremony. Today I would like to outline why I did not fly to Beijing, to the Genocide and Propaganda Games of CCP and IOC.

I refrain from using the term boycott, that would be an exaggeration. It may be that my decision has boycott-like features, I think you can put it that way without lying. But I don’t want to put that in the foreground.

COVID played a role in my considerations, but not the decisive one. I have behaved cautiously and appropriately for two years, have only flown once (to Tokyo for the Summer Olympics), have not left the Berlin environs a dozen times, quite deliberately, and am of course vaccinated three times – and know, as you all do, that this is not a protective shield. That’s all you can do, but fear of infection was irrelevant to my refusal.

A thousand times more important: COVID minimized freedom of movement and thus press freedom on the ground.

Under the guise of COVID, a thousand things are tightened up and arbitrarily adapted in China, just as it suits the state and party leader Xi Jinping, holder of the Olympic Order of the IOC, and his business partners from Lausanne. Of course, freedom of the press is not guaranteed there, so let’s not fool ourselves and believe the eternal propaganda messages that the IOC trumpets to the world. Whereby not only a German is IOC president, but Bach’s loyal servant Christian Klaue acts as propaganda director and thus supreme truth faker, who is usually too cowardly to give his name. That is why in many articles about the IOC you only find the phrase “declared an IOC spokesman”. Shame on you! Shame on you for your work and the traces you leave behind. The time for excuses and apologies is over.

I am not a fan of uncritically distributing every press release from Human Rights Watch and other NGOs and calling it journalism. Nevertheless, on the subject of press freedom at the Winter Olympics, I recommend the publications of Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and others.

I trust neither the Chinese doping nor the Chinese COVID controls. I am convinced that there is manipulation at all points, as so often in this global Olympic theatre. It is insanity what is going on there. A disgrace.

And finally: COVID made travel costs hugely more expensive and increased the entrepreneurial risk. At the beginning of January, when I was still not completely at peace with myself and had been looking for flights at the same time, I could have got a direct flight VIE – PEK for around 3,500 euros. Tourist class. Perhaps not everyone will know: China virtually closed the airports two years ago and only allows a few flights from abroad. If you like, you can read a few details about the conditions, requirements and restrictions (the question of flights is also mentioned in it) in the playbook for Broadcasters, International Federations, Marketing Partners, Olympic and Paralympic Family, Press, Workforce that applies to me. As expected, I had to cancel my self-booked hotel and would have had to check into a more expensive, worse and even better monitored facility – within the closed-loop system.

Xi Jinping and his Olympic minions like that. It is even easier to arrange, trick, lie, spy, control, propagandise, cheat and screw under the COVID cover.

I have been to China often enough. Before the 2008 Summer Games, at the Beijing Games and afterwards.

  • I witnessed the fear and chaos in the Olympic Circuit that prevailed on the Tibet crisis, the all-dominant topic at the 2008 ANOC meeting in Beijing.
  • I described Beijing’s Olympic bid for 2000 back in 1993 and was in Monaco when Sydney – in the guise of Bach’s buddy John Coates – bribed two (more) IOC members with so-called cooperation agreements the night before the election to defeat Beijing (it succeeded by 45 votes to 43).
  • I was in 2001 Moscow when Beijing finally became the 2008 Olympic city at the request of Juan Antonio Samaranch Sr. and Samaranch Jr. was hoisted into the IOC.
  • I organised a journalists’ workshop on the Olympics in China in 2008.
  • I was in Kuala Lumpur in 2015 when Beijing became the 2022 Olympic city under dubious circumstances.
  • I went for a walk with Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr, who is central to Beijing 2022, at the last Winter Games and talked about Beijing there too.
  • I asked Thomas Bach in 2019 about his stance on concentration camps for the Uyghurs (yes, I used the term concentration camps and he surprisingly did not object).

In short, what one can do as a journalist, I tried. It’s not much. I call it doing homework.

While searching for one of the most important texts I ever wrote, which I wrote in 2008 for a SPIEGEL special on the IOC and Beijing and which I will republish in its entirety these days, I just found a conclusion that I had also written for SPIEGEL in 2008 at the end of the Summer Games in Beijing. A few passages from it, it’s not hard to guess that we only have to exchange names and numbers and that we will be able to re-publish such sentences in a few days – and I guarantee that we will read them almost word for word in other media and journalists:

Human rights, doping, media censorship at the Beijing Games: IOC President Jacques Rogge took it sportingly. At his final press conference, he defended China’s crackdown on protesters – presenting himself as a puppet of the regime.

“There is no doubt that we made the right decision with Beijing,” Rogge said. “The IOC and the Olympic Games cannot change sovereign states and cannot cure all the ills of this world. But we can contribute to positive change. And that is what we are doing.” Spluttering applause.

In principle, nothing has changed in the constellation for years. It was like this before Beijing, during the Games and will be like this in the future: The IOC claims for itself the status of a non-political organisation. It is clearly profit-oriented, but under Swiss law it enjoys the status of an association and thus numerous tax advantages. The IOC always acts politically when it serves to maximise profit.

However, when the IOC is reminded of its political and moral responsibility by human rights activists, NGOs and politicians, it reacts in an offended and increasingly helpless manner. External interference is forbidden. Control, too. Responsibility is only accepted every two years during the summer and winter games, each lasting sixteen days. And even then only partially, closely related to the Olympic venues. This is the fundamental conflict that the Beijing Olympics have exacerbated.

Rogge said a fortnight ago that the “magic of the Games” would silence criticism. He has trusted the Chinese to deliver perfect conditions for the TV broadcasts in mega sports venues in front of hand-picked audiences, backed by an army of security guards and half a million volunteers.

The IOC and the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China were only interested in one thing: the power of images. On television, which breaks down all the dramas into their individual parts, prepared over and over again with the most modern technical means, with super slow-motion, exciting camera perspectives, underpinned with the appropriate sound.

This is how heroic epics are created. One only has to look at the latest advertising clips for the freshly launched PR campaign “The Best of Us”, in which the super athletes are stopped in the stadiums: “Amaze us!” It was about nothing else at these retort games. It is never about anything else.

Rogge has defended the Chinese and the IOC decision for Beijing for seven years, to the point of self-denial. He let the CP leaders around Hu Jintao lead him through the ring by the nose. There was no turning back. He first promised free internet access for Olympic reporters, then refused to apologise for his broken promise. He allowed what should have been daily joint press conferences between the IOC and the organising committee to become a farce and only take place occasionally.

On re-submission.

Many things have been going through my mind in the past weeks. My whole life. After all, I grew up behind a Wall, the iron curtain, and enjoyed the full questionable socialist education programme. There were at least three important elements for me in the process of disengagement in 1989: the electoral fraud in the local elections in the GDR in 1989, then shortly afterwards the reading of Rolf Henrich’s book Der vormundschaftliche Staat (The Custodial State. On the Failure of Real-life Socialism) – and the discussions surrounding the Tian’anmen massacre. Some people may not be able to follow me now, but they don’t have to. You know how it is, you can’t get some things out of your head. 

It is formative. 

I just don’t want to get into this bubble shaped by Xi and Bach, I don’t want to be crammed into this COVID Olympic Wall. It disgusts me.

I am also disgusted by the memory of this incident (and many other similar incidents) with a Chinese intelligence agent disguised as a journalist:

I had officially complained to the IOC at the time. It happened at the IOC’s Lausanne Palace. No reaction. Just stupid grins.

Last point, also important for my final decision, which matured for a long time, whereby I somehow still wanted to leave myself a back door open, for many reasons, certainly also for vanity, because I always want to be there too and try everything:

After the death of my friend Andrew Jennings, I spent two and a half weeks day and night thinking so intensely about journalism, reminiscing so intensely and retracing all the stages of my journalistic life and our work together (Andrew and many others, please look it all up, something special has emerged: SPORT & POLITICS, The Andrew Jennings Edition) that I soon realised how unimportant it is whether I once more or less pull off my kind of Olympic coverage under complicated conditions somewhere on this planet.

I can produce many sensible things from my desk during this time. I have projects to work on (e-books and magazines) and my loyal clientele to serve.

I will continue to do my homework and be productive. I will hopefully provide you with an Olympic newsletter, probably daily, which will be more of a digest than it was in Tokyo, with many certainly good recommendations of the work of colleagues and friends from China – and hopefully some sensible thoughts and analysis from me.

That’s what I’m going to do.

I have decided so. Others have thought it through just as thoroughly and decided otherwise. I do not hold other decisions against anyone. I know that some colleagues, even from the closed-loop system of CCP and IOC, will, with great effort, provide very important and helpful notes, thoughts and descriptions that will help us all to better frame this event that should not have taken place there.

I don’t want to dwell on all the others who will focus on the medal hunt under the most absurd conditions and under the total control of Xi Jinping’s henchmen, who will then certainly again apologetically add “but we also report critically”, by which a few minutes of hundreds of hours of broadcasting time are meant, about all these others. The coming weeks will certainly offer opportunities here and there. Some things cannot be left uncommented. Perhaps I will revive the Olympic Poems I have produced during the disgraced Sochi Olympics.

Best regards! Stay curious!