I am very concerned about the government that will be hosting the
Summer Olympics in four years. I'll tell you why.
Since 1983 I have written continuously updated editions of The
Complete Book of the Summer Olympics. Because of its size (now
1,172 pages) it has never been translated into a foreign
language, but after the 2008 Summer Games were awarded to
Beijing, I struck a deal to have the book published in Chinese.
The deal fell through last month, however, after the publisher
informed me by fax that Chinese censors deemed certain pieces of
information in the book to be "confidential to the public in
mainland China" and "absolutely not allowed to be written in the
Chinese edition ... even though they might be facts." I refused
to approve any cuts the censors couldn't prove were untrue.
Some of their objections were what you might expect in a
Communist country: The censors didn't like sections critical of
the Chinese government. Others were more revealing. For example,
the book lists the 57 athletes who have tested positive for
prohibited drugs at the Olympics, including Chinese volleyball
player Wu Dan, who was barred from the Games for using the
stimulant strychnine in 1992. The Chinese wanted her name removed
but not those of drug-using athletes from other nations. Why?
Presumably the Chinese government never told its citizens about
the failed test.
Comments made by Chinese swimmer Zhuang Yong, who won the women's
100-meter freestyle in 1992, were also ruled unprintable. In a
1994 interview with the Hong Kong Standard, Zhuang likened her
training to "real torture" and revealed that she was not allowed
to watch television, date or visit her family. Censors also
wanted to cut sections about controversial women's track coach Ma
Junren, who forbade his athletes from pursuing romantic affairs
until age 22. One of those passages details the experience of
Wang Junxia, the 10,000-meter gold medalist in 1996: "In December
1994 Wang fled Ma's camp, claiming, among other things, that Ma
had tried to force her to marry his son."
Despite this experience, I don't think that the Olympics should
be boycotted or moved from China. It is imperative that people
and press from democratic nations go to the Games; their effect
on the Chinese people and their government can only be positive.
David Wallechinsky is vice president of the International Society
of Olympic Historians.