So Martin Cullen is off to represent the nation at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing.

No doubt, the Minister for Sport shall enjoy the event, and he might even catch a glimpse of the surface-to-air missile launchers located near the Olympic ‘Bird’s Nest’ Stadium.

A battery of these launchers – tastefully camouflaged Hongqi 7s in case you didn’t know – have been deployed by the Chinese government at the Games’ premier sites to counter any potential terrorist threat.

Never in the course of human history has a Waterford Teachta Dála been so well protected.

It’s worth pointing out that this isn’t the first Olympiad where military hardware has been rolled out to protect International Olympic Committee big wigs, world leaders, corporate sponsors and, of course, athletes and fans.

Four years ago in the Games’s spiritual home of Athens, which also had air pollution problems lest we forget, Patriot missiles were installed around the Greek capital at a reported cost of $1.8 billion dollars.

Thankfully the only patriots in action four years ago were the flag-waving, tear-streaming medal winners and let’s hope it’s a similar story in China between August 8th and 24th.

Many a media discussion of late has centred upon whether or not a member of our Government should attend this Friday’s opening ceremony.

Across the water, beleaguered British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is skipping the event, but he’s due to attend the closing ceremony given London’s status as 2012 host city.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi is giving Beijing a miss, citing the humidity, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also opted not to attend.

Interestingly, despite earlier noises suggesting he wouldn’t travel, the IFA’s new best friend, French President and current King of Europe Nicolas Sarkozy will attend the ceremony.

He’ll be there on EU business, no doubt, to the annoyance of Messrs Ganley and McKenna, meaning Monsieur Le President is actually representing us Irish subjects, oops, citizens in Beijing too.

“I happen to think that humiliating China is not the best way to respect human rights,” President Sarkozy declared in Strasbourg recently. “I don’t think you can boycott 1.3 billion people, a quarter of the world’s population.”

As for Minister Cullen’s decision to travel? “We looked at what all our European colleagues are doing and all of them are participating fully in the opening ceremony and for the entire Olympics and Ireland has a right to be there as well,” he said.

But this hasn’t cut too much mustard with John O’Shea of GOAL who described the Government’s decision to send a representative to the opening ceremony as “an appalling lack of moral fibre”.

No-one in their right mind would disagree with the assertion that communist rule in China has brought about many social and political ills in the world’s most populated state.

Any afar observer of China will be familiar with stories of human rights abuses, its government’s positions on Tibet and Darfur, the suppression of free speech and censorship of the media.

Yet one wonders how many Chinese eyelids would have batted with the news that a government of a country whose population is about a quarter of Beijing’s alone, had opted to stage a ‘no-show’.

What ‘real’ difference would Minister Cullen’s non-attendance really have made? Well, to be frank, none.

Nonetheless, it would have been brave and symbolic; all the more so given how, for so much of our history, we were ruled and oppressed by a state whose press often caricatured us as farm animals.

It’s often said that sport and politics should never mix, but perhaps that old nugget deserves some amending. Sport, economics and politics should never mix.

And if anyone out there can undo that particular knot, I for one would love to know how.