Diplomatic boycott of Winter Olympics defends human rights


Some experts believe that athletes should stick to their specialties, as if they lack the wit and intelligence to travel beyond pitches, courts and diamonds.

It is a blissful and arrogant statement, because athletes have the right to express themselves, to use their platforms in the service of civil rights.

However, when governments use them as their spokespersons, they give up their right to expression, and the result is inevitable: they get bogged down in political conflicts over which they have no control.

It’s a thorny issue that President Joe Biden skillfully sidestepped his approach to the 2022 Winter Olympics in China in February, declaring a “diplomatic” boycott while allowing athletes to compete on the world stage.

Biden cited “the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity” in the Xinjiang region, including the torture, persecution and mass imprisonment of Muslims, especially Uyghurs and Kazakhs. Congress recently passed an import ban for the region, requiring companies to demonstrate that products made there were not made with slave labor.

Boycott, import ban follow global outcry over mistreatment of ethnic minorities in China, with US joining EU, UK and Canada in imposing economic sanctions .

Biden has also restricted exports from five Chinese companies over alleged abuses in the Xinjiang region, a major production center that supplies the world with parts needed to build solar panels.

“The athletes of Team USA have our full support,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “We will be 100% behind them while we cheer them on from home. “

While the President has done the right thing, athletes can also do the right thing whether or not they compete in the Olympics. Some have done it before, including Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter Freedom. He is a Turkish Muslim, but his empathy goes beyond his cultural and religious heritage. What happened in the Xinjiang region is a crime against all humanity, a crime his NBA brethren should condemn, but most players have remained silent.

“The Uyghur region has become an open-air prison,” he said.

If US officials were to attend the Winter Olympics, that would be considered government approval, not the games.

Chinese authorities blasted the boycott, threatening unspecified retaliation.

A Chinese official responded to the news with a flippant question – “Who cares? The request, tragically, could have been a comment on the boycott or the allegations that motivated it.

Other countries joined the United States in the diplomatic boycott, including Scotland, Australia, Lithuania and New Zealand. The more countries boycott, the more effective the response will be.

Experts disagree on the effectiveness of such measures. There is an argument to be made for not sending athletes to these games, that sending athletes is, in itself, an endorsement of brutality. But the world has changed since previous boycotts, including the boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980, when American athletes were forced to stay at home.

Such a decision is problematic because it punishes the athletes, not the host nations.

Thanks to the Internet and other technological innovations, the world keeps shrinking. No country lives in a vacuum, and news of human rights violations can travel around the world for as long as it takes to turn on your iPhone.

As the debate rages on, American athletes will be able to compete on the biggest stage an amateur athlete can reach. And they can use this stage – if they want to – to voice human rights.

Biden did the right thing. If the athletes had stayed at home, the focus would have been on the merits of the decision, not its place – the allegations of human rights violations.


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