HRH the Crown Prince of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, has commented on the world tour of the Olympic Torch in Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf today. The flame has attracted a lot of attention this time around and the Prince made a most remarkable statement: Reality is that this beautiful symbol of hope has become the focal point of protests.
Oh now, we wouldn’t want that, would we? We wouldn’t want this ‘symbol of hope’ to be soiled by people who actually have a bit more to hope for than ticket revenues and a good press, now would we? We just hope that the smog clears, that the Chinese will succeed in their crackdown of criticism and that the Games of 2008 will be a resounding success, as is already written in the closing speech.
The Crown Prince wants the world tour of the Torch, introduced in 2004 for the Athens Games, to end, and wants a return to the old tradition of the Torch going to Greece and the host country only. By reinstating the old tradition one prevents that this Olympic symbol is destroyed, he said. The old tradition introduced in 1936 for the Berlin Games – the so-called Nazi Olympics – he means. I wouldn’t want to call the Prince a closet Nazi, but maybe he should read up on his history before getting all teary-eyed over a symbol stamped ‘Approved by Goebbels’.
Of course, being a Dutch Royal, Prince Willem-Alexander cannot say anything about the political situation, because his words on such matters would fall under the responsability of Prime Minister Balkenende, and our PM would never say anything to upset anyone at all, especially not a potential market of 1.6 billion people for the likes of Heineken and Philips. But he did repeat the old mantra uttered by IOC members since the heady days of Moscow and Los Angeles: Sports and politics should always be separated.
The IOC could of course have known that repressive regimes tend to make the best of an occasion such as the Games. Again, 1936 comes to mind, but let’s not forget Moscow in 1980 – a rare moment of thaw in an otherwise freezing, 70 year Communist winter. And so, before telling the world to stop politicizing the Games, go tell it to the Chinese. They introduced a cute little Tibetan antelope to their line-up of mascots, they are going to present the nation as one happy, open and prosperous society, they tried to stifle the free press even before their planes had touched down, they made sure to crack down on criticism, even abroad. We didn’t start the fire.
So, Willem, Your Royal Highness, dear Prince, future King, direct your motorcade to the government district of Beijing and make your stand about politicizing your precious Games there, if you have the guts to match your collection of uniforms.