WaPo Notes Religious Restrictions at Beijing Games, Uses Bland Headline

While the Washington Post's Beijing-based Ariana Eunjung Cha should be commended for her reporting on Beijing's restrictions on the exercise of religion by Olympic team chaplains, the paper's headline editors clearly dropped the ball in titling her August 14 headline: "Some Olympians Dissatisfied With Religious Center."

The casual reader might say, "so what," and breeze past the article. After all, any Olympic Games is bound to garner a host of logistics and aesthetics complaints from athletes, coaches, media, and tourists on a whole host of things. But the substance of the story is not so much on the subjective and sometimes picayune complaints of athletes and coaches but rather in the tightly-restricted manner in which the Communist Chinese government is providing for the spirital welfare of the Olympians.

For example, Cha reported that (emphasis mine):

Previous Olympic hosts welcomed foreign chaplains, but China has banned them from living with the athletes. It has instead pledged that it will provide equivalent services from its pool of state-employed pastors, imams and other clerics.


The quality of the religious services center came into sharper focus on Saturday after the fatal attack against Todd Bachman, the father-in-law of the coach of the U.S. men's volleyball team, at a popular tourist spot in Beijing. To help athletes with their grief, the U.S. team had to scramble for official permission to get a chaplain who spoke English fluently into the village.

Cha noted that the government's insistence on controlling who ministers to the athletes means that while athletes have freedom to worship, they must make do with government-employed clergy that in many cases are not fluent in their respective languages or accustomed to counseling athletes:

In Athens in 2004, more than 100 religious leaders speaking several dozen languages were stationed in the Olympic Village. Many had extensive experience counseling elite athletes facing extreme pressure.

While China held its ground on foreign clerics, it promised that it would provide its own chaplains and that athletes would be allowed to worship just as they would in their home countries.

But visitors to the center say that the majority of the 65 staff members there are student volunteers and that, at best, they can speak broken English, French, Italian, Korean and Arabic. All are Chinese.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.