On boycotting China's Winter Olympic games

This is becoming an increasingly common topic in political circles and on social media. China is scheduled to host the Winter Olympics next year and there is an army of American athletes who have been training for this moment for ages, some for almost their entire lives. But China is more than a little problematic these days, to say the least. There have been growing calls for the United States to boycott the games rather than contributing to an event offering the Chinese Communist Party a chance to shine on the world stage. The sins of the CCP are many, but the decision to boycott the games entirely shouldn’t be made hastily until we can determine if it would make any significant impact or if we’d because causing additional harm to little or not benefit. (USA Today)

The Biden administration is under escalating pressure to push for a U.S. boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics, scheduled for Beijing next February, over China’s rampant human rights abuses.

Human rights groups and some Republicans in Congress say a U.S.-led boycott would send a forceful signal to China, as well as other authoritarian countries, about America’s commitment to democratic freedoms and President Joe Biden’s willingness to confront Beijing over what his own advisers have called “genocide.”

Others say the U.S. should not boycott the Olympics but want Biden to use America’s clout to prod the International Olympic Committee to move the Games from China to another host country.

Do we really need to spend much time on the arguments in favor of slapping down China? They’ve locked up more than a million Uyghurs in forced-labor concentration camps. The number of dead is unknown, but it’s clearly mounting to the point where it’s readily being described as genocide. At the same time, China is flooding the world with spies and stealing technology at an alarming rate. They’ve assisted in helping Iran, Venezuela and North Korea flout international sanctions. They are systematically dismantling democracy in Hong Kong right before our eyes. The list goes on.

The main question I have is really in two parts. First, while it would obviously make a “statement” in terms of international diplomacy, would a U.S. boycott of the game really have any measurable impact on the CCP? And second, what would we be sacrificing in exchange for making that statement?

As to the impact, it’s tough to see how that hurts China in any significant way, particularly if the United States is alone in doing so. Sure, if we managed to get most of Europe, as well as Canada and Mexico to go along with it, then the games would be looking pretty barren and the victories would be less impressive. But is that likely? And without the United States’ team there, all we’re really doing is opening the door for the Russians and the Chinese to vacuum up a lot more of the gold medals. In that sense, we might actually wind up helping China.

What we would lose should be obvious. As I mentioned above, an army of American athletes would have wasted years of training and preparation, not to mention the expense, only to miss out on the biggest and most challenging opportunity of their careers.

The only suggestion I’ve heard thus far that sounds appealing is the idea of pressuring the International Olympic Committee to move the games elsewhere. That would very seriously punish the Chinese both economically and in terms of being embarrassed on the world stage. But it also appears to be a pipe dream. The IOC has been asked about this repeatedly and they have not wavered in their response. They say that moving the games at this late date would be a logistical nightmare. They’ve also responded by saying that awarding the games to China “does not mean that the IOC agrees with the political structure, social circumstances or human rights standards in its country.”

Not every problem has an immediately obvious solution available. As I said, I would ask our athletes to make that sacrifice if it would have some real impact on the CCP and potentially influence their future actions. But at present, that doesn’t seem to be the case at all. If the United States can get a significant number of other countries to agree, we can revisit the question and I would almost certainly go along with it. But as things stand, we’d really just be punching ourselves in the nose to little effect.