My first hero was the baseball player Willie Mays. (French readers: Think Zidane, multiplied by 100 in mythic proportions.) I can remember the first home run I saw him hit (he blasted about 660), a line drive, and how it trickled on the other side of the center-field fence, beyond which one could see the San Francisco Bay. I can remember where I was on the black day the Giants traded him to the New York Mets.
When we grow up, we realize that athletes are more idols than heroes, because being a hero — being a hero for someone else — requires something more than physical achievement, even more than physical courage. It requires risk and/or sacrifice. And when it comes to seizing a heroic response at personal cost to China’s ongoing human rights abuses at home and in its territories, in France at least, an 83-year-old poster artist from Sarlat, here in the Dordogne region of southwest France, has beaten the French Olympic team hands down for true bravery.
But first a distinction: Those calling for a boycott here are not calling for a boycott of the Peking Olympic Games themselves but of the opening ceremonies — thus, not a sports boycott that requires the athletes to abstain but a *political* boycott that requires French president Nicolas Sarkozy not to attend an event that, let’s face it, will be used by China to the *political* end of demonstrating, to its citizens and everyone else, that it has the approval of the world. (Because the ceremonies coincide with the French presidency of the European Union, Sarkozy’s abstention would have a global signficance.)
The heroes of the French Olympic team have responded to those concerned about Chinese rights abuses by deciding to wear a badge that calls ‘for a better world.’ (Talk about going out on a limb.)
The Sarladois poster artist Alain Carrier has responded by refusing to send his work to an international exhibition of poster art in the Chinese city of Hang-Zou — for which he was to be the guest of honor. He didn’t refuse outright. “I notably faxed them my humanitarian work,” he told the French journal Sud Ouest, “realized in the course of my career for Amnesty International and different associations, in demanding that they guarantee the integrity of my works at the exhibition, for some of which I’ve received prestigious prizes,” including two “Oscars of Advertising.” “I received an evasive response, in which they proposed to relegate this work to side rooms. I have therefore chosen to decline the invitation.”
China and its supporters argue that boycott supporters are trying to politicize the Games, and that sports should be separate from politics. Au contraire!, says Carrier; it’s the Chinese who are using the Games to political ends. “These Games are the tree that hides the forest,” he told Sud Ouest. “The Maoist party, still in place, wants to make a show-window and whitewash itself in the eyes of international opinion. And yet the free world is going to be playing sports while China plays politics.”