With the breakup of the Soviet Union and the alleged demise of Communism, it was assumed that the Olympic games would no longer be as much of an arena for showcasing the competing ideologies of individual liberty and nearly total social control. And even though East German woman with mustaches no longer quite raise eyebrows and hushed chuckles the way they once did, the Olympics are as much a battle for the minds of men as they have always been
On the surface, it would be easy to conclude that the success of a country's Olympic efforts would be determined by its medal count, particularly gold. If that is the case, the world is once again presented with contrasting examples provided by the United States and Red China.
On the one hand, China won the most gold but the United States won the most medals overall if silver and bronze are also factored into the tabulation. To some athletic diehards, though, it is only the gold that counts.
A story titled "U.S. Will Be Rocked By China's Heavy Medals" by Yahoo Sports posted 8/22/08 analyzes the situation as follows: "The difficult thing for the Americans to stomach is this is unlikely to change in future games. This isn't a one-time surge by a host nation...Whether the U.S. holds on this time or not, eventually China's system, coupled with it 1.3 billion people, should be unstoppable."
Of this development, Peter Uberroth of the United States Olympic Committee said in the story, "It's going to be difficult (to dislodge China). The resources that they put toward their Olympic team and the population base and the dedication is fantastic."
Even though it is inspirational when Americans take the gold in these events and our flag and national anthem are lifted above all others for the world to see and hear, this country needs to stop and think for a moment if emulating the Chinese approach to obtain gold is really worth it. For if we do, we will have turned our backs on the values that made America --- not China --- the beacon of hope to the world.
In the United States, individuals pursue athletic glory because that is that they want to do with their lives free of state coercion. In China, there is no such choice.
In “U.S. will be rocked by China’s heavy medals”, Dan Wetzel writes, “In China, they wouldn’t have had a choice. A sports star, like the property a house is built on, is owned by the government...China selects athletes at young ages and pushed them into sports in which their expected body types might thrive. In the U.S., an athlete is allowed to follow his own path to success and failure.”
Those having embraced the communitarian outlook growing in popularity in this country that conditions us more and more into accepting the arbitrary whims of the group as superior to the prerogatives of the individual might not be able to fully grasp what this means really without explanation.
Though even in America those aspiring to athletic greatness must dedicate a seemingly inordinate amount of time to perfect their skills, often family especially in the form of parents are there in the background providing the kind of emotional and logistical support necessary to obtain this goal. However, things are quite different in China.
One report that aired on the NBC Nightly News during the course of the Olympic games showed a training facility where children no more than six or seven years old were warehoused around the clock like livestock as they were drilled in gymnastics by their Communist taskmasters. These children detained at the training camp were permitted to see their families only a couple of times per year.
Some made uncomfortable by such living arrangements that defy God’s intentions for the family of parents being the primary caretakers and source of guidance in a child’s life will try to console their consciences by positing that, even if we don’t like it, it might be the only path to a better life for these children. Even through this grueling toil, there is little chance of that.
In the United States, since the interests of the individual also carry weight and just not those of the larger group, there is emphasis (even if there are instances where the results have fallen short of this goal) of cultivating athletes capable of providing for and looking after themselves once their time in the limelight has transpired even if the life the athlete ends up with is less than the one dreamed of. However, in China where the individual is viewed primarily as a cell within the broader social organism, this aptitude is honed at the expense of other skills since under Communism the person's worth is derived from what they can contribute to the overall group or nation.
Some will argue that this is all merely the rantings of an individualistic borderline-libertarian conservative who doesn't like Communism very much reading back into all of this. However, a quote from a 5/6/07 Los Angeles Times store titled "Athletes Are Run Into The Ground In China" proves that my assessment is not all that far off the mark: "The athlete's entire training is financed by the state, and successful athletes...are considered government properties who must do as their leaders say. Their job is about gaining glory for the country, not pursuing personal interests."
Some today who have an admittedly milder and diluted philosophy similar this pounded into their heads by government, academia, and increasingly even by the nation's churches might initially respond, "What's so wrong with that" as they proceed to spout rhetoric about the wonders of community and the evils of self interest. However, in a land of over one billion people where the government owns you, once you break or are outdated by the newer model rolling off the assembly line, there is nothing to protect you from being tossed aside like yesterday's garbage.
For example, marathon runner Guo Ping thought that, once her days as an athlete were over, the government would reward her with a position as a police officer as her coach (who also beat those training under him with a whip or knocked them to the ground with the bumper of his car) promised. The coach's defense in court was that the beatings "weren't severe".
Unfortunately, such a case is not so much a rarity as it is the norm. According to a similar article titled "China's Disposable Athletes" published in the 7/17/07 issue of Time Magazine, nearly 3000 athletes retiring each year in China end up unemployed with educations barely beyond the primary level. One distraught female Chinese athlete lamented, "I gave my youth to sport, but in return, I was thrown out like garbage with no knowledge, no skill, and a barren womb."
However, the liberal media is only willing to take its critique of world socialism so far. It has been jokingly said that the few remaining Communists in the world can be found on American college campuses; however these subversives and their fellow travelers can still be found in many more places, especially among the ranks of prestigious journalists
For instead of blaming these outrages on the systematic dehumanization inherent to all forms of collectivism, the Times article says, "The root of Zou's troubles, like so many things in China today, can be traced back to the country's wholesale adoption of capitalism."
Are you going to tell me things were hunky-doory under Communism when millions were starving to death and the hungry resorted to cannibalism? Are you going to tell me it's Capitalism's fault today that house church pastors rot in prison?
What links each and everyone of these is a fundamental devaluation of the individual.
Frankly, if that is what it takes to excel in the Olympic games of the 21st century, perhaps the United States should be proud of its diminished Olympic prospects.
Dan Wetzel writes, "In the U.S., the athlete's goal is most often himself," and in appraising the decision of an athlete that pursues opportunities other than the Olympics, "No one in their right mind in the States would expect him to do anything else." Who needs a gold-plated trinket when you can buy the real thing?
Frederick Meekins is an independent theologian and social critic. Frederick holds a BS in Political Science/History, a MA in Apologetics/Christian Philosophy from Trinity Theological Seminary, and a PhD. in Christian Apologetics from Newburgh Theological Seminary.