The U.S. Backs Away From the Idea of a Beijing Olympics Boycott

Only hours after news outlets were blowing up with articles about a possible boycott of the 2022 Olympics, the United States announced that they are retracting the idea. The discussion of a boycott started only a month after the Chinese government was accused of abusing and detaining over a million people. These people were mostly Uyghur, a Turkic-speaking ethnic group originating from the northwestern region of Xinjiang. The majority of people who identify as Uyghur and other Muslims have never been charged with a crime, yet they are actively being targeted by Chinese authorities for their religious choices.

In President Joe Biden’s State Department’s annual report on human rights, Biden called the Chinese policy in Xinjiang “genocide.” However, the Chinese foreign ministry has been denying these allegations. A foreign ministry spokesperson called the claims “malicious lies” that were designed to “frustrate China’s development.”

In response to these allegations, the United States State Department spokesman, Ned Price, and other members of the Biden administration have been talking about a potential joint boycott of the 2022 Olympics. When asked about the topic at a press briefing, Price said, “It is something that we certainly wish to discuss . . .  A coordinated approach will be not only in our interest but also in the interest of our allies and partners.”

After hearing about the discussion of a joint boycott, the Chinese government advised the United States not to boycott the event. Chinese spokesperson Zhao Lijian warned that “The politicization of sports will damage the spirit of the Olympic Charter and the interests of athletes from all countries.”

india china on map Photo by James Coleman from Unsplash

While human rights groups encourage protesting China hosting the Olympics, not everyone supports this idea. In the past, The International Olympic Committee and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee have said that they oppose boycotts. In a recent statement, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee spoke in opposition of the boycott, saying, “They (boycotts) have been shown to negatively impact athletes while not effectively addressing global issues.” “We believe the more effective course of action is for the governments of the world and China to engage directly on human rights and geopolitical issues,” it said.

This is not the first time that political tension has caused the discussion of an Olympic Games boycott. In 1980, the United States held a team boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The decision came after the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee faced pressure from Congress to boycott the event. A more recent boycott occurred during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, when former President Barack Obama decided not to send an official delegation.

With all of the warnings from China and the controversy, the United States State Department elected an official to calm down the rumors. A senior department official spoke on the idea of a boycott, saying that there is no official discussion of a boycott yet. "Our position on the 2022 Olympics has not changed. We have not discussed and are not discussing any joint boycott with allies and partners," the official noted.

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