Last week, the government of South Africa, bowing to pressure from the Chinese Communist Party, barred the Dalai Lama from entering its country to attend a peace conference, and announced that he would not be allowed to visit South Africa until the 2010 World Cup was over.
Many South Africans were outraged by this decision. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said he was "ashamed," and even a member of the South African cabinet, Health Minister Barbara Hogan, called on the government "to apologize to the citizens of this country, because it is in your name that this great man...has been denied access."
I attended the last four World Cups: in the United States, in France, in Japan and in Germany. I was looking forward to going to South Africa for next year's World Cup, particularly as it would have been my first visit to the country. I have been warned repeatedly that many of South Africa's major cities have serious crime problems, but everyone I have ever known who has visited South Africa has spoken highly of the South African people. I was about to join the ticket lottery online when I learned of the South African government's decision. Now I have decided to stay home and watch the matches on television.
As an American, it made me gag when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on February 21, told reporters that the Obama administration would not let the issue of Chinese human rights abuses "interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis." But at least no U.S. government has banned the Dalai Lama from entering the United States. In fact, President George W. Bush even personally and publicly presented the Dalai Lama with the Congressional Gold Medal.
I would never call for an athletes' boycott of the World Cup; but for spectators, that's another story. If the president of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe, wants to grovel at the feet of Hu Jintao and the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, that's his choice. But if the Dalai Lama has to wait until the World Cup is over before he visits South Africa, I guess I can wait until then too.