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Athletic competition and dictatorship
How Much Is Gold Worth?
Gu Chuan

What is a sport? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, sport is (1) : physical activity engaged in for pleasure (2) : a particular activity (as an athletic game) so engaged in. Sports have came from games that we play, such as gymnastics, track and field, various ball games, swimming, martial arts, mountain climbing, shooting, skiing, skating, wrestling, fencing, bicycling and more. We can safely say that sports are just games played by the all of humanity. The purpose of playing games is for enjoyment and recreation. A rational person would not pay an excessive amount of attention to winning or losing.

Then why do dictators often emphasize sports and spend large sums of money for sports in the countries they control? I think sports have become “image projects” in these countries, carefully packaged for propaganda targeting people at home and abroad.

On the one hand, internationally competitive sports can generate “patriotic” fervor among people who have been subjected to decades of “patriotic” indoctrination. There is nothing wrong with patriotism, but we need to know what true patriotism is. We should certainly love our country, but should not love the dictators that treat our country as their personal bank account. To maintain the strength of their rule, dictators often try to stir up a kind of fervor among the people. They want people to view each sports competition as a war on which the nation’s honor and survival depend. In winning every game, the propaganda mouthpieces in China declared that “each time the five-star red flag is raised in Athens, every Chinese feels proud.” They want people to feel that their leaders are “great, glorious and correct” and are leading people from one victory to another.

Dictatorships also tend to create “model workers” and “exemplary soldiers” in all walks of life. Sports are not exempt from this practice. The dictators are willing to spend huge sums of money on sports competitions, especially on Olympic games. The money of course did not come out of their pockets but from the people. There seemingly is no concern about overspending. In order to get more medals in Olympic games, the Chinese leaders increased the sports spending from 1 billion yuan in 1988 to 5 billion yuan in 2000. As Mr. Lin Siyun pointed out, “Olympic gold medals have become bottomless holes for sucking in state revenue.”

On the other hand, more gold medals are likely to attract goodwill from foreigners. Those who have never been to China and do not really know what is going on would think that China must be something special for so many gold medals to flow into the country. The gold medals are thus the best advertisement for gaining uninformed admirers in foreign lands who are led to believe the Chinese people are living in a paradise, never realizing how cruelly and bloodily the dictators are exploiting, repressing and persecuting Chinese citizens.

Although gold medals do attract domestic support and foreign goodwill, we should remember that piles of gold medals are not going to prevent the collapse of dictatorships. First of all, the former Soviet Union got many more gold medals than the United States but still collapsed in 1990. When freedom and democracy have been universally accepted, it is futile for dictators to use Olympic gold medals to prevent their inevitable downfall.

Secondly, the demand for gold medals can never be satisfied. It might be sufficient to get 28 gold medals this time, but the people will demand more than that number next time, say 32 or even 36. It is quite pointless and harmful to use gold medals to address the grievances of the people.

Thirdly, our athletes have really become “sports machines” after undergoing rigorous, mechanical training since their childhoods.

Fourth, our gold medals are not really worth that much. Even our sports authorities acknowledge that we tend to get gold medals in games that involve skill and technique, not in games that demand speed, perseverance and strength.

Fifth, our athletes do not represent the physical health of our population, because they are carefully crafted sports machines with physical strength far above that of the common people.

Finally, we use our professional “national” teams to combat amateur athletes from other countries. This is a lopsided competition, so there is no reason to brag about winning. Boasting about winning gold medals under these circumstances only serves to show our ignorance and dictators’ impotence.

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