The Olympic games are a global stage for political activism, showcasing both the triumphs and the failures of political ideologies. This paper analyses the political motivations of China’s bidding strategy for the 2008 Beijing Olympic games. The paper models China’s strategy in a sequential game under the principal–agent framework. The model supports the paper’s central claim that China falsified signals regarding its commitment to human rights in order to pursue greater political rents from hosting an international mega-sporting event. China used the Olympics to showcase the results of its tremendous economic growth and to lay the foundations of its political ascendance as a global superpower. The Chinese Olympics represents the emergence of a significant new form of political actor and has the potential to transform the international political stage.