Doing it all the hard way...

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Tolerance is overrated US Athletes in Beijing wearing masks

US Olympic athletes arrived in Beijing wearing masks to minimize the impact on their bodies of air pollution. These masks were provided to them by their respective sports governing bodies. Cyclists got theirs from USA Cycling, Track athletes from their organization, etc.

China invited the world to come and compete in their polluted city. Enter the athletes who have trained and monitored their training, food, and bodies for years, or decades in preparation for these events. Now when these athletes arrived the Chinese government was offended that some were wearing masks. Am I to understand that a nation that has a list of human rights violations as long as their own Great Wall is upset that people are acknowledging their horrid air pollution?

I consider my opinion more informed than most on this subject for two reasons, first, I grew up in Los Angeles competing in endurance sports high school and college, and I have been to Beijing and experienced the pollution first hand. I ran thousands of miles in smoggy Los Angeles and when there were smog alerts and we ran we felt it afterwards. The feeling in your chest was similar to having a chest infection and a burning in your throat was also unpleasant and there was a direct correlation between your symptoms and the severity of the smog and duration and intensity of your exertion.

Having said all that, I found the air in Beijing worse than any I had ever experienced by a huge magnitude. I was attending a conference in Beijing and knew probably three dozen people from different parts of the US who were also attending. Everyone I knew, and I mean everyone of them, had respiratory problems either during the three day conference, or were sick immediately upon their return with chest colds and missed one to two weeks from work. In my twenty years of travel this was the only trip where I did not work out at all. I also avoided stairs and would take escalators and elevators to avoid breathing deep. I recall landing in Tokyo on the return flight and once the cabin depressurized, I felt my symptoms go away almost instantly.

Back to the tolerance thing….

I am all for tact and diplomacy, but the truth is the truth. If the athletes were wearing the masks as a joke, I would heartily agree that would be in bad taste and contradictory to the Olympic spirit. These athletes were worried about their health, and with good reason. This is a remake of The Emperors new clothes. If we all pretend the air is okay, then it will be right ? The air is not okay. Maybe it isn’t the hanging death I experienced, but it isn’t some magical brown humidity. A North American mountain biker reported that after riding the Olympic course a few months ago, he doubled over vomiting because of the bad air pollution. If we jump on the oppressive Communist Government’s propaganda bandwagon we aren’t just being complacent, we are actively perpetuating the lie.

We are being taught look the other way when people are different than us. When a college student displayed erratic behavior everyone reserved judgment in the spirit of tolerance and diversity until that student picked up a handful of rifles and started killing people. Then with hands on our hips we collectively reflect on how we didn’t see it coming.

I love my fellow beings and respect and appreciate our differences. I also have a set of values that tells me certain things are wrong. I believe in the Olympic movement and think that setting aside our differences for a time is a good thing. Every effort should be made to keep protests and political demonstrations out of the games. However, I also believe suspending the truth should not be part of the equation.

Our country is fully supporting and attending the games. Our president is attending the opening ceremonies. We are not making a political statement. I can tell you the Chinese people have no trouble following the restrictions the government has put in place to cut the pollution. They do whatever their government tells them, without question, all the time. They believe everything their government tells them as well. The government says the air is okay, it must be so. The government says the Tiananmen Square protest involved only a dozen protestors, or it didn’t happen at al, and they believe it. And while I don’t think we should protest against the government, I don’t think we should be partners in crime either.

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