Associated Press

Add Beijing to the club. As members of the small but growing list of sites that have hosted Olympic Games, summer or winter, people along the Wasatch Front have a right to feel a kinship with people who live in other Olympic cities. We know of the fears and worries, the attacks from critics and the joys that come from welcoming the world and watching athletes compete.

Now it's Beijing's turn.

The International Olympic Committee's decision to allow China to host an Olympics has unleashed a hornet's nest of angry criticism and protest, most having to do with that nation's human rights record. Writing in the latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine, John Hoberman, a professor at the University of Texas, calls into question the Olympic ideal.

The history of the Games, he said, is one of nations and "unsavory regimes" using sport to exploit their own agendas. The Olympics serve to cover up abuses, rather than promote human rights. They don't promote meaningful change and they are governed by a corrupt IOC.

It's hard to argue against the evidence he lays out, except to say that, in the minds of the public, all those things ultimately take second place to the athletes and the games themselves, and that is why the Olympics are worth perpetuating, regardless of the warts.

Sure, Adolf Hitler used the 1936 Games in Berlin to reinforce his own authoritarian regime, which didn't give up until forced to do so with bombs and bullets nearly a decade later. But Hitler's face doesn't come to mind when people recall the Games of '36. American sprinter Jesse Owens does.

The Soviet Union drew protests for invading Afghanistan as it journeyed to Lake Placid, N.Y., for the Winter Games of 1980. The world was a tense Cold War place during those times, and yet the enduring memory is of a U.S. hockey team that overcame all odds.

Likewise, the Salt Lake Olympics were clouded by a scandal that uncovered massive corruption within the IOC. But today, we remember Apolo Anton Ohno, the speedskater, and Australian Steven Bradbury, who won the gold because everyone else fell down. We remember Derek Parra winning an improbable gold in long-track speedskating and tearfully trying to tell his wife he loved her.

No Olympic venue could be entirely free from controversy. Nor should grievous human rights abuses be minimized or ignored. And doping remains a constant challenge among participants wherever the Games are held. But it is precisely because athletes and competition rise above those things that the Games are important.

And beginning today, the world gets to begin once more to watch and admire that struggle.