Carrying a torch for China in Tibet

To be fair, it was a tricky one. The European Union’s sports ministers gathered in Slovenia for one of their scheduled meetings to discuss whatever it is EU sports ministers discuss: the parlous state of Danish hockey; whether Geoff Hurst’s second goal actually crossed the line; the subsidy regime for Maltese polo.

And would you believe it, those wretched Tibetans go and start a ballyhoo in Lhasa, practically daring the Chinese to crack down. What were the sports ministers to do? Naturally, they were out of their depth on issues of substance. We know this because they are sports ministers, in much the same way that we understood why our gym teachers were only allowed to teach geography.

But anyway this was a tight spot for the Lions of Ljubljana. They knew they would be asked if this made an Olympic boycott more likely. Now of course, they didn’t want a boycott. On the other hand, they knew that, on balance, killing civilians isn’t on. I mean, it’s not even an Olympic sport.

So after much debate with ministers and officials, Patrick Hickey, the head of the European Olympic Committees, emerged to declare: “Under no circumstance will we support the boycott. We are 100 per cent unanimous.” (As opposed, presumably, to 85 per cent unanimous.)

Some may regard this as a pretty feeble response. The sports ministers could have gone far further. They could, for example, have issued a strongly worded statement reminding the Tibetans that it is not the winning but the taking part that counts. They could have broken off all cultural relations with Steven Spielberg or announced a Europe-wide ban on the works of Richard Gere; perhaps a resolution urging the Chinese to do more to staunch the flow of material on to YouTube, which is not only upsetting but hugely embarrassing to the sponsors. Of course, we all know that the EU has no desire to irritate the Chinese. They are also reasonable people who genuinely believe that sport must be kept separate from politics – though that is to miss China’s prime motivation for hosting the wretched games in the first place.

But would it have been so terrible to place a scintilla of doubt in Chinese minds as the tanks rolled through Lhasa? Something to check Beijing’s actions? The ministers didn’t need to threaten a boycott but they might have voiced their disquiet, articulated their fears that a heavy-handed response might stoke up fears of a protest. But no. They cut through the BS. They came out straight and reassured the Chinese that there was nothing they would do that might in any way give succour to people fighting impossible odds in their effort to throw off the yoke of a brutal repression. Certainly not while there was a triple jump contest at stake. “Under no circumstance” would they support a boycott ... Did you catch that, Wen? Under no circumstance: the massacre of hundreds; the rounding-up of thousands; chemical attack on civilians; a nuclear strike on Lhasa. Don’t worry, Wen old boy, under no circumstances will these 27 politicians dedicated to keeping sport out of politics spoil your games. So what are you waiting for? Let those tiresome Tibetans have it.

Express apology

The Daily Express and Daily Star have run front-page apologies to the McCanns.

The Daily Express apologises to Kate and Gerry McCann for suggesting, as part of naked attempts to boost our plummeting circulation by feeding off their misery, that they are evil liars who killed their daughter and covered up the fact.

We now acknowledge there is no evidence whatsoever to support our theory that repeating this rubbish every day on our front page did in fact bring us any extra readers. We furthermore recognise that we should have stuck to the Diana inquest, given that she is dead and can’t sue.

As an expression of our regret we are going to spend the next few weeks hounding Heather Mills in the hope this does the trick.

Clash of ideas

Ruth Kelly wants all cabinet ministers to show their green credentials by choosing Toyota Prius hybrid cars. John Hutton feels they should stick with British cars. Ed Balls says the idea smacks of gesture politics when, of course, either choice does.

But given the state of British manufacturing, what exactly are an eco-friendly jingoistic minister’s options? Coming soon: the ministerial trike and cabinet skateboard. Perhaps a tandem and cyclist for senior ministers.

Send your comments to robert.shrimsley@ft.com

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