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Should the U.S. Oppose the Olympic Games in Beijing?

Project Overview

A seminar to debate whether the United States should oppose awarding the 2008 Olympics to Beijing because of China's human rights record.

Identifying the Problem

The International Olympic Committee’s consideration of Beijing as a potential host for the 2008 Olympic Games ignited a fierce response from the human rights community. Many claimed that China’s human rights record should disqualify it from hosting an event of such international significance. One of the most vocal opponents of the Committee’s decision was the late Tom Lantos, a former U.S. Congressman from California. Lantos, a Holocaust survivor and founder of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, was a passionate human rights advocate who publicly opposed awarding the Olympics to Beijing. His voice joined the national conversation about whether the U.S. State Department should urge the international community to deny the 2008 Olympics to Beijing because of China’s human rights record. 

Philip had met Tom Lantos during his participation in the Humanity in Action Fellowship, and was inspired by his deep commitment to human rights. Philip followed the congressman’s public opposition with great interest, and believed that it was important to raise awareness about the issue. He decided to organize an event that would host a conversation about the appropriate role of the U.S. State Department in influencing the location of international events when human rights were at stake.

Creating A Solution

Philip persuaded his university, Brown University, to host a public seminar on the topic. He pitched the idea to the head of the Watson Institute for International Studies, who agreed to lend support to the project. With that endorsement, Philip invited Susan Shirk, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, to speak on the topic. He worked with Brown University to provide the necessary space and equipment, and secured funding through the university to cover the related expenses. 

While the event was well-publicized and well-attended, the topic of conversation shifted rather significantly. Although Philip organized the event in the early fall of 2001, the debate took place shortly after September 11, and the speaker and the university decided to focus the bulk of the discussion on U.S.-China policy and Asia's role in the U.S. government's response to September 11. While the topic of the Olympics was included, it was no longer the principal focus of the event. 

Lessons Learned

As demonstrated by Philip’s project, it is important to remain flexible in the event of unforeseen circumstances. He especially urges you to approach your projects with flexibility when you are working with partners whose own expertise is comprehensive and can lend itself to broader ideas. He also suggests spending some time to evaluate the characteristics of your potential partner organization, and then proposing a project that comfortably intersects with the organization’s own goals and resources. For instance, Philip did not propose his idea as a favor to the university; instead, he proposed it as a project that fit the university’s need to bring high-profile speakers and compelling topics to campus, for which the university already had an existing budget and administrative resources. 


This project required securing event space, sound equipment, and a speaker, including her travel and lodging costs.  Brown University covered all the in-kind and direct expenses for this event, which totaled about $2,000.

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About This Project

HIA Program:

Netherlands Netherlands 2001

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