American swimmer Michael Phelps (middle) won eight gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Nick Laham/Getty Images

Should the U.S. Boycott the Beijing Olympics?

Fourteen years after China hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics, it’s set to once again welcome the world’s top athletes when the 2022 Winter Games begin in February in Beijing. But there’s growing talk about whether the United States and other countries should boycott the Beijing Games to protest China’s human rights abuses.

A human rights activist and a U.S. senator face off about whether the American team should boycott the Beijing Olympics.

When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) selected Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Games, the hope was that this would encourage China to improve its human rights record. Instead, over the past six years, Chinese President Xi Jinping has unleashed a relentless crackdown on human rights and all forms of dissent. That’s why my organization is part of a coalition of 180 groups calling for the nations of the world to boycott the Beijing Olympics.

The human rights situation in China has dramatically deteriorated. Tibet has been transformed into a surveillance state, with more than 1,000 political prisoners facing torture and even death. China is arbitrarily detaining between 1.8 million and 3 million ethnic Uighurs and other Turkic peoples in “re-education camps,” where they are forced to learn Mandarin and abandon their religious traditions. Despite promises to preserve democratic traditions in Hong Kong, China has rounded up human rights activists and outspoken young people by the thousands—for nothing more than advocating for democracy.

The human rights situation in China has dramatically deteriorated.

We’ve been here before. In 1936, Nazi Germany hosted the Olympic Games in Berlin, despite international calls for a boycott to protest the Nazi regime’s growing persecution of Jewish people. The Olympics gave the Nazis a massive platform for their propaganda and helped legitimize a regime that would soon carry out a genocide.

Before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, human rights groups begged the IOC to reconsider allowing Beijing to host the Games. The IOC went ahead as planned, arguing that allowing China to host would encourage reforms. In fact, the opposite happened: An emboldened China has increasingly cracked down on basic freedoms.   

Let’s not let history repeat itself—again. Because the IOC has refused to move the 2022 Winter Games to a different country, it’s up to individual governments to do the right thing. Anything less than a boycott of the Games will be seen as an endorsement of the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian rule and its blatant disregard for civil and human rights.

 

—MANDIE MCKEOWN

Executive Director, International Tibet Network

As the Beijing Olympic Games approach, it’s increasingly clear that China, under the control of the Chinese Communist Party, does not deserve an Olympic showcase. Because it’s too late to move the Winter Games, some have proposed, understandably, that the United States boycott the Games.

China’s list of human rights violations is long, and the country deserves our condemnation. But prohibiting American athletes from competing in China would be the wrong response. Our athletes have trained their entire lives for this competition and have primed their abilities to peak in 2022. When I helped organize the Salt Lake City Games in 2002, I gained an understanding of the enormous sacrifice made by our Olympic hopefuls and their families. It would be unfair to ask a few hundred young American athletes to shoulder the burden of our disapproval.

It could also be counterproductive. The Olympic Games aren’t just a showcase for the host nation, but a platform for values both American and universal. We would lose the global symbolism of our young American heroes standing atop the medals podium, hands to their hearts, as “The Star-Spangled Banner” plays on Chinese soil.

It’s unfair to ask American athletes to shoulder the burden of our disapproval.

Moreover, if an athlete boycott is meant to influence the behavior of the home country or delegitimize its government, it probably won’t work. When President Jimmy Carter boycotted the Moscow Olympics in 1980, the result was more medals for Russians and dashed dreams for American athletes. No one seriously believes it improved Soviet behavior.

So then how should we meaningfully condemn China’s atrocities? The right answer is an economic and diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics. American spectators—other than athletes’ families and coaches—should stay at home so we don’t contribute to the enormous revenues that China will raise from hotels, meals, and tickets. Let’s demonstrate our repudiation of China’s abuses in a way that will hurt the Chinese Communist Party rather than our American athletes.

 

—SENATOR MITT ROMNEY

Republican of Utah

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