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Celebrity influence ineffective

Bob Kessler | Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Last month, Steven Spielberg stepped down as the artistic advisor for the Beijing Olympics in protest of China’s continuing inaction over the genocide inthe Darfur region of Sudan. While Chinese officials insisted that the Darfur conflict and the Olympics are completely unrelated, they continue to support Sudan’s government with economic, military, and diplomatic ties. 

Because Mr. Spielberg’s attempts to use his position to sway the Chinese government, specifically President Hu Jintao, had proved less than fruitful, he felt he could no longer continue to assist Olympic organizers.

Similarly, George Clooney is also using his Olympic resources to pressure the Chinese government into timely action with Sudan. Mr. Clooney is a spokesman for Omega Watches, a longtime Olympic sponsor, and is attempting to pressure the Chinese government through the watch company. While his efforts have not yielded any action by the Chinese government, Omega executives claim they are working to help solve the crisis.

While Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Clooney are using their celebrity clout to no avail, the plight continues in Darfur. Last month, a fresh Sudanese offensive aimed at suppressing Darfur rebels sent even more refugees into neighboring Chad. Since 2003 more than 2.5 million people have fled Darfur, and over 200,000 people have been killed. The Chinese have seemingly supported the massacre by selling weapons to the Sudanese government, and buying oil from them.

But why are these celebrities using the Olympic Games in an attempt to pressure Chinese political policy? It seems unlikely that the Chinese government would back away from any given position just because a film actor and director take issue with it. In fact, when it comes down to it Mr. Clooney and Mr. Spielberg have no real influence on the practices of the Beijing Olympic organizing committee, let alone the policies of the Chinese government.

I am certain that organizers can find another artistic advisor for the games, and I even believe that they would be able to find another timing sponsor in the unlikely event that Omega somehow pulls out their involvement.

Furthermore, the International Olympic Committee president himself has said he is using silent diplomacy to help resolve issues about Darfur as well as the current crisis in Tibet. Jaques Rogge (president of the IOC) maintains, however, that the purpose of the Olympic Games is not to solve political problems in China, but to bring the world together and have the best possible competitions for the athletes.

Despite the fact that even Rogge has been unsuccessful in swaying the Chinese government, there is one man whose involvement with this year’s Olympic Games is crucial to their perceived success in the United States (and perhaps around the world). He is quite possibly the most exceptional athlete of our generation, and is currently preparing to ignite the world stage. I believe that Michael Phelps might be the one man in the world who can use the Olympics to sway the actions of the Chinese government, but he is also one who can not risk action.

Bob Kessler is a junior majoring in political science and economics. He really enjoys the Easter SweetTarts that come in the shape of bunnies and chicks. You can read more of his work at saltystix.com. Contact him at rkessler@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.