Recently. Bob Molinaro had this item in his column in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:
“Brewing: The controversy over whether America should boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics or work to pull them out of China could have been anticipated the moment the International Olympic Committee awarded the event to a country with such horrific human rights abuses. But taking into account China’s immense market, the IOC and its corporate sponsors — largely American — cannot resist pouring money into the country, human rights be damned.”
There is an awful lot to unpack in that statement. Let me start with the reports that the current US administration might be considering a boycott of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing. Well, how well did that work out in the past?
- In 1980, the Olympic Games were held in Moscow. The US was mightily offended by the actions and intentions of the USSR when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. To demonstrate the depth of its concern, the US chose to boycott the 1980 Olympics. Please note that the US boycott in 1980 had just about zero effect on the Soviet decision makers with regard to Afghanistan; the boycott was symbolic and useless.
- In 1984, the Olympic Games were held in Los Angeles. At the time, the US and the USSR had dozens of issues over which they disagreed; but it is fair to say that the main reason that the Soviets and some of its allies chose to boycott the 1984 Games was to “punish” the US for its behavior in 1980. Please note that the USSR boycott in 1984 had just about zero effect on any decisions made by the US administration at the time; that boycott was similarly symbolic and useless.
Now – – as history is poised to repeat itself – – the Winter Games will happen in Beijing in 2022 and the Summer Games will happen in in Los Angeles in 2028. Currently, the geopolitical rivalry of note is between the US and China and the current US administration is reported to have an Olympic boycott under consideration as a gesture of showing the folks in Beijing the depth of its consternation. Once again, I feel the need to channel Derrick Coleman here in order to express the depth of my sense of the importance of such a gesture:
Let me assume that the “boycott to emphasize US concerns” wins the day in Washington over the next 9 months and that there is no US Olympic team that arrives in Beijing for the competition there. Out of all the many issues over which the US might hope to demonstrate moral concern regarding Chinese behavior(s), can someone point me to any sort of logical path whereby the boycott leads naturally to modified Chinese behavior that swings in the direction that the US chooses as its moral North Star? I have not yet heard such logic.
There are plenty of issues over which the US and China can and do disagree as I sit here and pound out these words in April 2021. In no particular order, here are some such issues – – and most importantly, I seriously doubt that a US Olympic boycott will have any positive effect on the status quo of any of them:
- Full disclosure of data regarding the origin(s) of COVID-19: The majority of evidence points to a species jump of the virus from bats to humans but there are still data gaps that suggest this virus was engineered and accidentally released from a laboratory in Wuhan. The actions of the Chinese government a year and a half ago regarding the virus and its subsequent dealings with the World Health Organization have not been fully transparent. Guess what; the failure of the US Olympic Team to show up in Beijing in February 2022 will not create said transparency.
- Political freedoms in Hong Kong: When the Brits returned Hong Kong to Chinese control in 1999, there were certain “democratic assurances” given by the Chinese leadership associated with that divestiture. Over the past two decades, there has been a tightening of the screws on the people in Hong Kong with regard to the definition of “political freedom” as tolerated by the Chinese. Over the past couple of years, that tightening has markedly increased. Guess what; the failure of the US Olympic Team to show up in Beijing in February 2022 will not result in political freedom in Hong Kong.
- Tibet: It has been more than 30 years now when Western countries began to decry the Chinese annexation of and dominance over Tibet. I would bet that about 90% of the Free Tibet bumper stickers on cars in the US now reside in landfills somewhere. Guess what; the failure of the US Olympic Team to show up in Beijing in February 2022 will not result in Tibet emerging as a free and independent nation.
- Uighur genocide: According to the majority of Western reporting, the Uighur minority in Xinjiang Province is being targeted for “re-education” or “elimination” by the Chinese authorities. Guess what; the failure of the US Olympic Team to show up in Beijing in February 2022 will not miraculously change the status of the Uighurs in China from a group that needs any sort of “re-education” to one of equal stature with other groups in China.
The US and a bunch of its allies may decide to boycott these upcoming Games and it will not amount to a drab of donkey dreck when it comes to tangible and meaningful alterations regarding Chinese policies on any of those issues above. In fact, the most probable logical extrapolation of a 2022 boycott by the US would be another boycott by the Chinese and/or some of its surrogates of the 2028 games scheduled in Los Angeles. Is anyone ready to consider a fundamental change in US democratic or diplomatic positions six years hence over such a boycott? Do the words “feckless”, “useless” and “inept” come to mind yet?
In the original statement from Professor Molinaro that started this rant, he notes that much of this controversy could have been anticipated at the time the IOC awarded these Winter Games to China about a decade ago. Indeed, the evidence supporting such foresight was present then, but the IOC has a long history of ignoring any such signals and thinking that its treasured “Olympic Movement” can overcome any political or social disagreements among nations due to the purity of the competition in the Games.
- [Aside: I have referred in the past to the “Olympic Movement” as being akin to a “Bowel Movement”. I am not anywhere near the point where I feel any need to change that opinion.]
In retrospect, the IOC and the “Olympic Movement” has some dirty laundry to deal with. Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler staged the Games in 1936; the world did not yet know the depths of the depravity of that regime, but those Games can only be a stain on the Olympic reputation. Lest anyone forget, the Olympic Games were also held in Berlin in 1916; unless you slept through that chapter of World History, you should recognize that the German government at the time was not exactly seen as a beneficent force in the world at large at the time. As noted above, the Games were staged in Moscow in 1980 and then in Beijing in 2008. The conclusion here is that the IOC does not care about political or social righteousness; it cares only for governments to commit to staging these events on the grandest possible scale. [Aside: Even if a country cannot afford such an extravagance – Athens in 2004 or Rio de Janiero in 2016 – the Games will go on there at the expense of the poor people of that country.]
The best course for a US administration to take here would be one that minimizes the importance of the Olympic Games as a recurring international event. An Olympic boycott will confer a level of importance on the Games that the Games do not deserve. Moreover, the losers in such a boycott will not be the ne’er-do-wells in the Chinese hierarchy; here are the real victims if there is to be a US boycott:
- NBC will experience a financial bloodbath as it pays out its commitment for the broadcast rights to those Games but cannot sell much of any of its advertising inventory herein the US because there will be no Americans in the competitions.
- The US athletes who have trained for most of their lives for the chance to compete in these Games will be denied any chance to win an Olympic Medal not because they were not worthy of such stature but because a bunch of suits in Washington decided not to sanction their participation.
I refuse to take a back seat to anyone when it comes to contempt for the IOC and the high-fallutin’ ideals of the Olympic Games; most of that aura is nothing more than the “man behind the curtain” in the Wizard of Oz. And because the IOC and the Games do not deserve any sort of identification as a “signature world event”, my position is simple and straight forward.
- Do not boycott the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing – – unless you are prepared to boycott any and all future Olympic Games no matter where they are held.
Allow me a tangential thought here. The IOC is not beneficent as Professor Molinaro points out above. Nonetheless, consider that one of the US sports organizations widely hailed for its sensitivity to social issues and social justice – – the NBA – – does lots of business with those “bad guys” in China and when an NBA GM dared to Tweet his support for the folks in Hong Kong demonstrating for democracy, none other than LeBron James said the GM needed to educate himself. For the record, that GM lost his job over his Tweet…
Finally, I mentioned above that NBC would be a financial victim of any sort of US boycott here. I will not be glued to my TV set to watch the Winter Games with or without US participation; I find most Winter Games events to be uninteresting at best. Therefore, let me close today with a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:
“HDTV: A device that allows you to watch crap in greater, more pristine detail.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………