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Thoughts about the Olympic Medal Tally and the Self-Immolation Crisis in Tibet
Phayul[Thursday, August 16, 2012 12:45]
By Peter Gilmore

Once every four years we witness the grand sporting spectacular of the Olympics. For me this is a refreshing chance to appreciate coverage of some of the sports outside my usual sporting interests. Whilst the detailed intricacies of these other sports can be unfamiliar to me, the intense human drama on display always far outweighs any subtleties in the rules and techniques that I might be missing.

My nature is to cheer for the underdog, so I saw the dramatic victory in the marathon by the unfavoured Ugandan runner Stephen Kiprotich as a fabulous outcome for both Kiprotich and the nation of Uganda - a nation that I have visited and know firsthand as having suffered immensely from horrendous political turmoil in the past. Similarly, for the long-suffering people of Tibet the bronze medal won by a female Tibetan athlete, the walker Choeyang, was a joyous milestone achievement. This was the first ever Olympic medal won by an ethnic Tibetan. However, you will not see Tibet listed in the medal tables because Choeyang must compete for China, the nation that invaded and occupied Tibet in 1950.

As Choeyang stood on the podium to receive her medal I began to reflect on what her achievement really meant for the Tibetan people. I’ve always been a fan of the alternative medal tables that are compiled on a medal-per-head-of-population basis. These tables provide very different outcomes of relative sporting prowess by nation as shown in Table 1 below. Here you can see how the accomplishments of the traditional Olympic giants begin to look rather inferior. I couldn’t help but wonder how a Tibetan nation might be placed in this table if competing in its own right.

Table 1: 2012 Olympics - Weighted Medals by Country(1)

Rank--------------------Medals / Million of population
1 Grenada---------------------37
2 Bahamas--------------------13
3 Jamaica---------------------10
4 New Zealand-----------------8
5 Trinidad and Tobago---------5.70
6 Hungary------------------------4.5
15 UK----------------------------3
[?? Tibet---------------------?.??]
42 USA-------------------------1
67 China-----------------------0.2
85 India-----------------------0.01

As Choeyang was listening to the Russian anthem being played for the gold medal winner Elena Lashmanova, I then found myself asking what thoughts might be in the minds of all the Tibetans watching around the world as they face the ongoing self-immolation crisis in Tibet. Were they thinking about why the world was showing such a resounding lack of concern as the tally of self-immolation deaths spirals ever upward?

I began to conceive of another type of table, one containing a tally that might apply the present Tibetan self-immolation rate against the populations of other nations in order to highlight the degree of repression and suffering that is causing Tibetans to turn to self-immolation as a form of protest at such an alarming rate. As a basis for this table I used the number of Tibetan self-immolations as at the close of the 2012 Olympics (when the count had reached 48 individuals). This number of self-immolations works out at a rate of 0.8 persons per 100,000 Tibetans (assuming a Tibetan population of approximately 6 million). I then extrapolated this rate of self-immolation against the populations of other selected countries in order to come up with Table 2 below.

Table 2: Projected Self-Immolations
(At the rate of Tibetan self-immolation, 12 August 2012)

Selected Country---Approx Population---Rate/100,000---Projected Self-Immolations
South Africa--------------50,000,000--------0.8------------------400

I think you would agree the projected outcomes are quite shocking. For me, the table highlights just how severe the level of discontent must be in Tibet. Could you imagine the reaction from the rest of the world if over 10,000 Chinese or 9,000 Indians had self-immolated for political reasons? Or if 2,500 US citizens or even just 500 Britons had torched themselves due to some repressive action by their governments? I included Tunisia in the table to show that the level of discontent in Tibet is clearly exponentially far worse than it was in Tunisia. I did this without wishing to diminish the martyrdom of the Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi or the suffering of the Tunisian people in any way at all. It is sobering to acknowledge that Tunisia would nominally now have suffered 80 self-immolations at the Tibetan rate of self-immolation.

There is very clearly a huge crisis happening in Tibet. Yet Beijing remains in total denial that the CCP’s policies in Tibet are responsible in any way. Instead Beijing irrationally continues to blame the “Dalai Clique” whilst heaping even further repression on top of the repressive policies that caused the problem in the first place. Meanwhile other nations turn a blind eye, preferring to maintain their default “kowtow positions” whilst remaining forever fearful of the standard Beijing response of infantile diplomatic tirades coupled with threats of unfavourable commercial consequences.

Is there any hope of Beijing instituting policy reversals? I very much doubt it. It looks inevitable that the death toll in Tibet is only going to get far worse. But if Beijing won’t act to reverse policy, then when and how will the self-immolations ever end? What will Table 2 look like in a year’s time?

The writer is married to a Tibetan. A keen observer of Tibet, he spent many years raising funds to help Tibetans in need.

The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the publication of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect their endorsement by the website.

1)Data based on: http://simon.forsyth.net/olympics.html
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