April 2008 in Beijing. The Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) holds its annual assembly in Beijing and the legendary Mario Vázquez Raña makes a mistake: he includes the word “Tibet” in the final declaration.
The Mexican’s face turned pale when a group of Chinese officials made their way to his office in the “China World” hotel. Accustomed to always being in charge and achieving his goals, the then president of ANOC, of the then Pan American Sports Organization (PASO) and member of the IOC executive committee could not resist the Chinese pressure.
In those days of the stormy final stretch to the Beijing 2008 Games, the overwhelming majority of ANOC members had agreed on a document consisting of four points.
The first expressed “full support” for the Games, the second confirmed that all 205 existing National Olympic Committees would be at Beijing 2008, and the third rejected any attempt to “politically exploit” the world’s top sporting event.
The problem was in the fourth point of the statement, which originally spoke of “the confidence (of ANOC) that the government of the People’s Republic of China can find, through dialogue and understanding, a fair and reasonable solution to the internal conflict affecting the Tibet region”.
The new version of the document called for “a fair and reasonable solution to the internal conflicts for the benefit of the Games and the athletes.”
Seventeen European Olympic committees, led by an irate Netherlands, demanded that the word “Tibet” be returned to the document. They would not succeed.
Shortly thereafter, Vázquez Raña took full responsibility for the changes, and admitted in dialogue with the author of this article that it was a “mistake” to include the word “Tibet” in the initial version.
“If we don’t want politics to mess with us, we should be respectful of politics and politicians.”
A very similar argument to the one Canadian Richard Pound expressed days ago to Around the Rings when rejecting the possibility of a boycott of Beijing 2022: “I think it is encouraging governments are no longer considering that Olympic athletes should be sacrificed because governments themselves are unwilling to take their own responsibilities.”
Thirteen years later, the problem is not Tibet, but the Uighurs and, unexpectedly, a Chinese tennis player. Although at heart, the problem is the same.
In that 2008, Vázquez Raña swore and perjured that he had not been pressured by the Beijing 2008 organizing committee (BOCOG), and was aghast when a journalist asked him if it was true that the then president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Jacques Rogge, had asked him to take the word “Tibet” out of the document.
“The IOC member who told you that is lying!” the Mexican told the journalist.
In that 2008, Rogge spoke of “quiet diplomacy” as his formula to circumvent the thorny Chinese political issue and successfully reach the Games that were to start on August 8, 2008. In 2021, the IOC revived the formula: “quiet diplomacy” is its strategy to get the Beijing 2022 ship safely into port on February 4, 2022.