One of the most memorable things about FISM 2006, for all the wrong reasons, was the announcement that the next FISM would be held in Beijing, China. Eric Eswin, Secretary General of FISM, made the announcement at the Friday night Banquet and, after initial cheers a section of the crowd responded with long and loud booing and hissing.
To me, this was extremely disrespectful and offensive behaviour. Three countries bid for the right to hold FISM 2009. All three used different lobbying tactics, offering appealing venues and facilities, two (China and Granada) even flew FISM Presidents in to their countries to inspect their facilities. Some people have suggested there were "behind the scenes politics" involved by some countries to ensure they got the votes of the FISM Presidents.
Regardless of rumours and allegations, the bottom line was that it was up to the FISM Presidents to decide where they wanted to be in 2009. Even if one country gave each President $1000 per vote, the ballot was held in secret so the Presidents could vote for whomever they liked best and no-one would know.
In the end China won the vote by a very big majority. Yet some people in the crowd were, basically, very sore losers and instead of congratulating China on it's win decided to rain on their parade.
However, the repercussions have extended far beyond that "emotional" display of poor sportsmanship. The magic forums are filled with comments like:
"Sounds like a great reason to go to China... if by then they stop clubbing dogs to death in their cities."
"Just ask the millions of Chinese in re-education camps making Nike for .50 a pair. I bet they are thrilled to have FISM."
"Regarding China winning the votes.... I have had a few folks suggest to me that they probably "bribed" many of those voting in some form."
"China of course being one of the largest, if not the largest, source of pirated movies and software. That's in addition of course to the way they treat their people, and the environment. Recall Tiannamen Square."
The Magic Cartoon site has even reacted by publishing what I consider an extremely racist anti-China comment.
I was speaking to another magician this morning who couldn't believe that all of this was going on. He asked "Isn't magic supposed to bring people together?" Theoretically, yes. But it seems that for some people not all magicians are welcome in our little community.
In my opinion, there are some valid arguments for and against each FISM 2009 candidate city, Governmental politics however, are not. Some magicians refuse to go to China because of its human rights record (that's their choice not to attend, but why should the Chinese magicians be punished for this? Haven't they suffered enough at the hands of their own government? Or is it the fact that the government is supporting China's FISM bid that justifies the anger towards the Chinese magicians?). I have heard the same type of arguments being used against Vienna as a host city. (Because of some Austrian politicians connections with the Nazi party, many magicians feel Vienna has no right to host FISM).
One legitimate reason against Beijing hosting is that it may well suffer the fate of FISM in Japan and have a low attendance because many magicians simply won't be able to afford the airfares. (Of course, for many non-European magicians it will be cheaper than flying to Europe and Beijing have promised very special low airfares with it's partner airlines).
Another valid argument is the reputation China has as being the country responsible for producing the most magic "rip-offs". Obviously it's impossible for the magic group hosting FISM 2009 to force these companies to shut down their factories as most have nothing to do with the magic community. However, China can and needs to re-educate it's magicians that rip-offs are simply not acceptable. In fact it's even in the FISM charter that FISM stands against rip-offs. Magicians are right to worry that the Dealers Room may be filled with rip-off manufacturers (and China has assured us that this won't be the case) or that the theatres will be filled with magicians secretly videotaping other people's acts (in Stockholm they caught 27 people doing this!) Do we give them the benefit of a doubt and take China at it's word that they will try to prevent this? Our FISM Presidents have decided to and we need to support this decision.
I liken it to a father who's teenage daughter is being taken out on a date by a new boy. He requests that she is brought home by midnight and, if she isn't, that boy better have a good explanation or he won't be welcomed back into the family.
Thankfully, some other magicians on the forums seem to think the same way:
"As for the China vote I would have preferred Vienna, one of my favorite cities, but, as Tim said, the vote was made and, for whatever reason China was chosen (the suggestion of corruption in politic ... surely not lol) so get past it. Booing and bad behavior won't change anything."
"I didn't like it when Eric Eswin was booed and I didn't like it when China was announced as the winner and several loud people booed and whistled. There is no excuse for that kind of behavior from so-called grown-ups. (Though we are talking about magicians, after all)."