December 17, 2021 | SPORTS | By Tori Matson
On Dec. 6, the U.S. initiated the first diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Since then, several other countries including Great Britain, Canada, and Australia have announced their decisions to follow the United States’ example. France, who is hosting the next Summer Games, has vocalized its choice to refrain from the boycott.
Before panic over boycotts spreads, Olympics fans should relax — athletes from the boycotting countries will still be competing. That means the show will go on for beloved athletes like Shaun White and Mikaela Shiffrin. Other delegates from these countries, however, including their high-ranking politicians or members of their royal family, will not be in attendance.
The nations’ participation in the boycott made it clear that the cause of their protest is the Chinese government’s aggregated violations of human rights. In particular, the Biden administration publicly voiced U.S. opposition to China’s discrimination against Uyghur people and to the government’s continued suppression of democratic activism.
In response to the boycott, China has taken the stance that the nations participating in the boycott are making a mistake and that they will eventually pay the price for it. According to a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, China is accusing the boycotting nations of using “the Olympics platform for political manipulation.”
So, what does this mean for sports and the Olympics as a whole?
The question about bringing politics into the Olympics is pretty messy. Since their conception, the Olympics have been one of the only settings, aside from institutions like the United Nations, where countries from all over the world gather together.
What is unique about the Olympics, though, is its underlying competitive spirit — who is winning the gold, silver, and bronze? This type of international contact can oftentimes spur whatever pre-existing tensions might be present between countries.
That being said, the absence of some nation’s officials has far-reaching implications for the Olympics and for international relations — a lot of which it is probably too soon to tell. There are nonetheless some predictions to be made.
Without nation’s delegates, the political aspect of the Olympics is missing one of its key components. This might mean the unavoidable politics of the Games will have to be found in other places, inserted into a part of the Games that has not historically been as political. If this is the case, teams and players might be tasked with representing their country beyond the slopes and the rinks.
This puts teams and athletes in an interesting position. One of CC’s athletic administrators, Justine France, thinks the possibility of less competition in the future might occur, but she is also optimistic.
“The possibility that the teams and/or athletes speak up about the loss of opportunity may help move the conversation about change forward,” France said.
Olympic athletes enter the Games knowing they are embodying somewhat of a diplomatic role in how they represent their country through their success in competition and through pre and post competition interviews. But, at the end of the day, they are athletes who may not want to be asked about the political climate they are playing within.
Dedicated fan of all winter sports, especially hockey and skiing, Alex Weinman ’23 appreciates the symbolism behind the boycott as it sends a message of intolerance toward China’s wrongdoings, but it still allows room for athletes to get to compete.
“It’s important for athletes who dedicate their whole lives for one shot,” Weinman said.
In the 2022 Beijing Olympics, the bubbling international tensions of the boycott might steal the spotlight from the games, teams, and athletes themselves. This runs the risk of affecting nations’ performances this winter in unprecedented ways.
Is this a crucial turning point in understanding the politics of the Olympics? Has there ever been a separation between the two?
As the Olympics start to unfold, questions like these present unique challenges for countries competing — only time will tell how countries, their teams, and their athletes respond to the pressure.