Olympic committee rejects GOP call for athlete boycott

AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

Senators Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Tom Cotton of Arkansas called for an athlete ban of the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics in protest of human rights abuses in China. They also expressed concern for the safety of participating athletes given the disappearance of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai in November. The senators asked that the USOPC take action and boycott the Beijing Olympics.


Peng Shuai disappeared after accusing a Chinese official of sexual assault. When she surfaced, she recounted her allegation. That’s what happens when a prominent Chinese citizen gets sideways with the brutal dictatorship in charge. She’s lucky she’s still alive. Clearly, this story plays into the concerns of Blackburn and Cotton.

“The Department of State annual Report on Human Rights Practices identified a peak in human rights abuses around the 2008 Olympic Games,” the senators argued in a November letter.

The State Department reportedly found that the 2008 Summer Games in China prompted abuses like “forced relocations linked to Olympic infrastructure construction,” house arrests for political adversaries, increased civilian surveillance and forced social and political “guardrails” at schools and universities.

Fox News Digital exclusively obtained a letter from Susanne Lyons, chair of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) board of directors, in response to the letter received from the senators. She reasons that a ban on athletes competing in Beijing would only serve to hurt athletes. Lyons uses the example of the boycott in 1980 of the Moscow Summer Olympics.

“An athlete boycott of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is not the solution to human rights or geopolitical issues,” she wrote. “The USOPC is opposed to athlete boycotts because they have been shown to negatively impact athletes while not effectively addressing global issues.”

Lyons pointed to previous athlete bans by both the U.S. and Soviet Union in the 1980s at the height of the Cold War that she said proved ineffective.

In 1980, the U.S. led a multination boycott and barred its athletes from attending the Moscow Summer Olympic Games in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Some 65 nations participated in what would become the largest Olympic boycott to date.

“As a result, 461 American athletes – the balance of them teenagers and college students representing almost every U.S. state – qualified to compete in Moscow only to have the opportunity taken from them,” Lyons said. “Many never had the chance to compete at the Olympic Games again.

“To make matters worse, their sacrifice had arguably no diplomatic benefit: The Soviet Union stayed in Afghanistan for another decade,” she argued.


Senator Blackburn’s letter to Lyons notes that she (Blackburn) has been working on this issue since December 2019.

In a December 5, 2019, correspondence to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), I led members of the Senate in highlighting numerous human rights violations unfolding in China. With the Olympics being three months away, it is imperative that the USOPC take action and boycott the Beijing Olympics. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is a country plagued with violent suppression of free speech, state-sponsored oppression, and other human rights abuses. As Communist Chinese Party (CCP) authorities enjoy unchecked power and zero accountability, American athletes could face severe endangerment. Moreover, China’s controversial national security law creates harsher sentences against Hong Kong residents who support secession or coordinate with foreign powers. The recent disappearance of tennis player Peng Shuai is an alarming reminder of Beijing’s willingness to silence any opposition.

Lyons is right, of course. The athlete boycott that Jimmy Carter led and picked up support from many other countries who participated in the boycott did nothing to end the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. It ended up being just another failure of Carter’s administration. The Republican lawmakers are well-intentioned in making a statement against the genocide being committed against the Uyghur populations in Xinjiang, along with other abuses in Tibet, Hong Kong and other parts of China but with or without the Beijing Winter Olympics being held there, the brutal Chinese Communist dictatorship will not suddenly have an epiphany about basic human rights and freedoms. The only way to make a real impact is to exclude countries like China from the site selection process. Don’t reward them with financial rewards of hosting the Olympic games.


Lyons pointed to the hockey game between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in 1980 in the Winter Olympics, just months before the Summer Olympics boycott, when the U.S. won. Our victory was a huge upset, called the Miracle on Ice. It was a great game, I still remember it and the exhilaration we all felt when Team USA won. However, as great as that was, and how it pulled our country together in victory, nothing changed in the Soviet Union and the summer boycott happened. “That competition and the American victory inspired our nation and stood as testament to the power of democracy and freedom,” Lyons said. Yes, but then what?

There have been six Olympic athlete boycotts since 1896, the year the United States entered the games. As much as I would hate to deny the athletes their spotlight after all the hard work and sacrifices they’ve made, if the U.S. isn’t willing to make a big move now, something more than just a diplomatic boycott, then when? It is especially timely now given the treatment of Peng Shuai. The world watched that play out. The Chinese leadership didn’t care, they acted with impunity, emboldened by the inaction of free countries.

“The U.S. Olympic Committee’s dismissal of our concerns is a tacit endorsement of communist China’s behavior,” Blackburn told Fox News. “We have no assurances that our athletes will be safe at the 2022 Beijing Olympics and have no reason to believe that the Chinese Communist Party will not leverage their position to weaponize its new digital currency and national security law to target U.S. athletes.”


Protesters are demanding that NBC drop their coverage of the Olympic games. That’ll happen about the time the NBA decides to put human rights over their profits, right? As long as financial incentives and gains are available, there is no reason for brutal dictators to stop the genocide.

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