In the past I couldn't make up my mind about Johann Hari, the Independent's columnist without brain cell. Was he charmingly naive or was he actually just a schoolboy who got taken on by mistake and everybody's just too ashamed to sack him. Or is he just a Bel Littlejohn style spoof that no-one has yet sussed?
Today he suggests that we shouldn't boycott the Olympics in Beijing but all the world's athletes should join together and demand that Beijong talk to the Dalai Lama, free political prisoners and allow a real peace-keeping force into Darfur. In return, they will compete without protest. Oh, and Beijing must also allow a website visible through the 'Great Firewall of China' (yep, nice one Johann) explaining to ordinary Chinese people about their Government's actions.
I think I've made my mind up about him now. I've come down on the side of pathetically crap and out of touch with any sort of real politik.
Yes, I'd like the Chinese Government to free all prisoners. I'd like their toadies in Khartoum to stop killing their fellow countrymen too. I'd even like them to begin the transition towards greater autonomy for the oppressed people of Tibet. While we're at it, let's demand that they explain to their citizens just why it is that their oppressive actions have been wrong for all these years. Oh, and perhaps an immediate set of free elections, declaration of the rule of law and a small cuddly toy for every child?
But it isn't going to happen.
You see, the great thing about athletes is that they are good at running fast, jumping, throwing or whatever. Very few disciplines require them to engage in macro-global diplomacy skills. The idea that all the athletes of the world are suddenly going to band together and decide that they should abandon their once in a career opportunity tom compete in the world's most prestigious sporting event in the vague hope that the Chinese Government will renounce 40+ years of totalitarian rule is just too incredible to even contemplate in a school debating club. Let alone in the pages of a national newspaper.
I wish that the Games had never been given to Beijing. I believe that it was naive to hope that giving them the games would lead to radical political changes. Countries have always imposed their own national spirit on the event. The US in Atlanta had terrorism and commerciality. The Aussies had a laid back spirit and determination that sport was all. The Spaniards had art and opera. And the Greeks had history and smog. We just have to accept that the Beijing Games will be surrounded by a spirit of martial law and human growth hormone.
In both 1980 and 1984 there were boycotts. Who remembers these as having any lasting effect on the Soviet Union or US?
By all means demand that the politicians themselves stay away from sporting events - as Nick Clegg has done. But don't mess with the athletes.
There is a reason why sport and politics shouldn't mix. It's because the public view their sporting events as more important than politics and look disapprovingly on those politicians who try to interfere.