written by Rev Gary Heard

With the choice of Beijing for the 2008 Olympics, the world’s focus has been turned to one of the world’s fastest growing economies, with a human rights record which has long been subject to question. It is not surprising that during these Olympics the spotlight will be turned on China’s reputation as a member of the world community. We do, however, need to be careful of pointing the finger at China while ignoring other nations who are culpable on the global stage.

When watching the games or read reports, give consideration to the amount of money spent on these athletes – spending often exceeds national contributions to global aid and development. Acknowledging and identifying China’s appalling record in Tibet, Taiwan, Sudan and other places ought not excuse Western countries for their appalling record on economic and social justice, whereby we have not only failed to fulfill our agreed responsibilities in relation to budget spending on aid, but have used our economic power to the detriment of smaller and more vulnerable nations. (Remember that it is our desire to consume chocolate that continues to feed the trade in child slave labour in West Africa.) In Australia we have turned our back on the legitimate needs of asylum seekers and refugees whilst we have been actively engaged in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq which have contributed to the flow of refugees. We ought to be careful of using success on the sporting field to inoculate ourselves against the injustices which allow our athletes to be paid to pursue their dream while many other equally capable athletes are unable to even afford the basic facilities, and still others cannot compete because their diet is inadequate, their family needs do not allow them to spend time in athletic pursuits, or the political circumstances in their area are unstable.

The prophetic call of the church to Make Poverty History through the Micah Challenge and the Millennium Development Goals is a reminder of the voice of God echoing through the centuries: to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). As we marvel at the human capacity to achieve on the sporting field, let us join our voices to those calling to extend the human capacity in the fields of justice and compassion, to extend ourselves in the global celebration of well-being of all peoples.

As we celebrate Olympic achievements, let’s remember that 25000 children die each day from treatable illnesses; that over 1 billion people live on less than $2 a day; that the life expectancy of Indigenous Australians is still significantly less than the rest. With these thoughts in mind, the words of Jesus “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” might prevent us from hypocrisy in relation to China, as we sharpen our call to all governments to do better on these issues of justice and peace, and tailor our own lifestyles accordingly.


August 10, 2008
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