I find myself in the strange and unchartered territory of … agreeing with Nancy Pelosi. National boycotts of Olympics have historically been futile gestures of impotence that only really hurt the athletes involved. Still, with China conducting genocide against the Uighurs and enriching their ruling class on the basis of slave labor, participating in their inevitable propaganda operations at the 2022 Olympics hardly seems right either.
But who says we have to fully participate? Pelosi calls on world leaders to shun the Olympics in Beijing, and honor their athletes at home afterward instead:
“We cannot proceed as if nothing is wrong about the Olympics going to China,” Pelosi told Congress’ Human Rights Commission and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China during a hearing on the games.
Pelosi suggested in her remarks that athletes should still be able to compete in the games but that world leaders and royalty should not travel to attend them in person.
“For heads of state to go to China, in light of a genocide that is ongoing while you’re sitting there in your seats, really begs the question: What moral authority do you have to speak about human rights any place in the world if you’re willing to pay your respects to the Chinese government as they commit genocide?”
Pelosi also took a swipe at the private sector, which has paid big bucks for high profiles and access to Olympic gold of another sort. Commercial interests can’t ignore human-rights abuses, Pelosi warns:
Pelosi blasted corporate sponsors of the games who “look the other way on China’s abuses out of concern for their bottom line.” She specifically called out companies that reportedly lobbied to weaken parts of a bipartisan bill targeting the use of forced labor in the Xinjiang region.
“If we don’t speak out against human rights violations in China for commercial reasons, we lose all moral authority to speak out for human rights anywhere,” Pelosi said.
That’s a little tougher to embrace. First off, many of the corporate sponsorships are aimed at support for the athletes, not the Olympiad itself. Pulling their cash would make it tougher for men and women on the US team to remain competitive, even in the post-amateur Olympic era. It might be better to focus on the media companies that will end up being part of Beijing’s propaganda and ask whether it makes sense to provide non-critical coverage of the opening and closing ceremonies. Remember NBC’s brown-nosing of Russia’s celebration of communism at the 2014 Sochi Olympics?
Pelosi admits that a diplomatic boycott might not work, but mainly because it has never been tried. It at least makes more sense than penalizing athletes by preventing them from competing at games that will take place anyway. And perhaps it will at least underscore the IOC’s declared mission of being apolitical and all about sports. If that’s the case, then who needs world leaders and ranking diplomats? That’s an idea worth considering, anyway.