Olympic Fever

Unless you’ve been living under a rock all summer, you probably know that today marks the start of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Whether you’re anxiously following Michael Phelps or were saddened when Morgan Hamm had to pull out of the competition due to his ankle injury, one thing is clear: Everyone, but in particularly the media, has serious Olympic Fever!

There are two stories in particular that have dominated the U.S. media’s coverage of this summer’s Olympics and I couldn’t help but notice how they touch upon some of the issues that Overbrook considers with respect to its grantmaking.

The first is the environment concerns over the issue of pollution in Beijing. Yesterday, Beijing’s air pollution index was recorded at 96, which comes close to exceeding the national level for acceptable air (anything over 100 is harmful to sensitive groups, including children and the elderly). Many athletes participating in the games have chosen to train elsewhere voicing concern for their health. Although there have been some modest efforts to incorporate green building and solar power into this year's games, the larger questions of what exactly China’s environmental policy is and what its effect is on climate change still remain.

The second issue that has raised concern is with respect to China’s human rights record. There are legitimate concerns from several groups, including organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch which believe that China has wasted a historic opportunity for reform. According to Sophie Richardson, the Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, “The Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee have had seven years to deliver on their pledges that these games would further human rights. Instead, the Beijing Games have prompted a rollback in some of the most basic rights enshrined in China’s constitution and international law.” To see the specific concerns of Human Rights Watch, click here.

Watching all of this media coverage (which will only continue in its relentlessness over the next few weeks), I can’t help but wonder how these issues will play out along political, social and economic lines long after the Olympic Torch is extinguished. But let us also not forget that these are issues that we struggle with here in the U.S. on a daily basis. The issues of climate change, environmental policy, and domestic human rights are ones that I hope our media will cover in a thoughtful and serious way.