Olympic Athletes: Take a Good Look in the (two-way) Mirror.

It’s hard to believe, but less than a year ago the Women’s Football World Cup was being played out in China, with many sporting officials openly claiming that the event provided China with the opportunity to test out its preparations for the August Olympics. And so, briefly, let me take you back to a less innocent time …

September 10, 2007. The Danish national women’s soccer team is in Wuhan, training for a first round match with China. That morning, they arrive at their training ground to find that somebody has dug a hole in the middle of the pitch (a pitch that hadn’t been mowed or maintained, either), but – with the help of some orange safety cones – sort of work around the problem. Then, later in the morning, during a closed training session, the players spot a camera crew filming their workouts. FIFA removed him, but that crew was soon replaced by another cameraman – leaving the players no choice but to stop practicing their corner kicks and spend the rest of their time “giving him the finger.”

September 11, 2007. Still in Wuhan, the Danish players retire to a hotel room for a “tactical meeting” in advance of their September 12 match with China. In the midst of the meeting, players notice movement behind a mirror and joke that somebody might be watching. A few minutes later, they determine that someone is watching and storm into the adjoining room where – to nobody’s surprise – they find a Chinese camera crew filming their meeting through a two-way mirror. [a comprehensive account of the incident can be found here.]

[The Danish team’s video of the ensuing confrontation has been released (in the last few days, I believe), and can be found here [“no camera!, no camera!”] along with an interview of Danish midfielder Anne Dot Eggers on the harassment that her team experienced during World Cup 2007.]

September 12, 2007. China defeats Denmark, 3-2, with plenty of post-game ugliness. A Danish assistant flips off the Chinese side (I sense a pattern …); the Danish head coach refuses to shake hands with his Chinese counterpart; the largely Chinese crowd is not amused.

In the days following the Danish loss, the highest levels of Danish sport and government called for an investigation into the hotel spying incident – by FIFA and/or the Chinese government. Predictably, the Chinese claimed that they’d conducted an investigation, and nothing was in the least bit wrong. FIFA, on the other hand, publicly acknowledged the Danish complaint – and then ran away from it just as quickly as it could, claiming that it lacked jurisdiction and limply leaving the matter in the hands of the police and the hotel. The Danes, however, were not satisfied, and looked for other ways to pursue this.

Which brings us to last week and a last-ditch effort by the Danes to have the International Olympic Committee’s Ethics Committee investigate complaints that FIFA president Sepp Blatter, an IOC member, allowed the Chinese to harass the Danish women during the World Cup [h/t Sydney Morning Herald]. They, too, claim a lack of jurisdiction. Truth told, not even the IOC is in a position to force the Chinese to produce the two cameramen, much less explain their presence. Frankly, if given the choice, I think the IOC far and away prefers that the Chinese keep the cameramen hidden, rather than produce them – and this under-rated scandal – for further analysis. The eggshells are pretty thin in Beijing these days; broaching the topic of surveillance of visiting athletes might just break them.

And that’s probably the end of it – until someone does a surveillance sweep of Olympic Village accommodations used by athletes competing in events that the Chinese intend to dominate.

A couple of final thoughts.

With Beijing amping up its security and surveillance capacities to unprecedented levels, what are the chances that those capabilities will be used for less than sportsmanlike activities? I’m in no position to speculate, but the fact that surveillance was clearly conducted during the Chinese-hosted World Cup (geez!) suggests that it’s within the realm of possibility. The Danish athletes who spoke to the press also agree. In either case, it’d be nice if – during the next news conference concerning China’s open-door policy on disciplining its athletes over doping – someone might ask whether China might also open the door on whether or not it doing anything to prevent its various sporting foundations from spying on foreign athletes for strategic advantages [dinner and bottomless beer on me, for the first IOC-accredited reporter who does it.]

Then again: Cameras behind two-way mirrors in adjoining hotel rooms? Specifically, two-way mirrors so poor that movement can be seen through them? This is Keystone Cops stuff; amateur night at the James Bond bookclub! This is the best that they can do??? Recently, Jim Fallows has had plenty to say about ham-handed Chinese security efforts (here and especially here) for the Games. With anti-terrorism and medal counts both being Chinese national priorities, I can’t help but think that both efforts illuminate each other.

[BONUS China Women’s Soccer Shenanigan: Who can forget this recent display of international goodwill against the South Koreans?]

6 comments

  1. The best part of the video is when the translator asks the Danes to provide the camera spook with their IDs. Typical.

  2. Oh Adam, just as I was starting to feel all “one world, one dreamish” you have to go post something like this! Now I have a strong desire to attend a women’s soccer qualifying match and fly the flag “of a non-participating member.”

  3. did anything ever come of the incident at the end of the China South Korea match – wasn’t a formal complaint lodged then too?

  4. Charlie – I will, in fact, be attending such matches.

    Paul – Yes, you’re right. A complaint was filed. But I don’t know what happened to it. It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if nothing happened. FIFA has demonstrated a total lack of backbone when it comes to challenging the Chinese on sport-related misconduct.

  5. It’s obviously outrageous that nothing came of the mirror story. But as for the footy clip. Players faking injury and time wasting, interfering with free kicks and corners – it’s hard to see a game where that doesn’t happen. The ref warned the player, and when she went at it again, the ref carded her. All completely “normal” within the footy world.

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