Boycott The Winter Olympics? Who Cares?

Since I am about to embark on a topic this morning that is laden with political nuances and sentiments let me declare my personal politics in a generic way:

  • I am not a Democrat.
  • I am not a Republican.
  • I am a Pragmatist.

I have not been able to buy into the ideologies or whatever passes for the guiding principles of either of the major US political parties for all of my adult life and both parties fail to attract me to their way of thinking because neither party can accomplish what they say they want to accomplish when they are “in power”.  What I care about in politics is successful achievement of new laws and new policies and new procedures that make life better.  To say that for the most part I have been “politically disappointed” over the last 50 years or so would be an understatement.

It is with that admittedly jaded attitude that I read last week that President Biden said he was “considering” a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics to be held in Beijing as a way to protest and to put pressure on the Chinese government to amend their human rights policies and practices.  The President is only considering preventing US diplomats and functionaries from attending the Games; the US athletes would be there to compete.

Since I am a political Pragmatist, it should not be much of a surprise that I think the US President should not “consider” such a thing for more than about a nanosecond because keeping US diplomats somewhere other than in Beijing during the Winter Olympic Games is not going to cause any change in behavior on the part of the Chinese government.  It just isn’t.

Even worse than pretending that such a symbolic gesture will cause even a minor change is the fact that we have empirical evidence that Olympic boycotts do not work.

  • In the late 1970s, President Carter was mightily miffed by the audacity of the Soviet Union to send army troops into Afghanistan.  The 1980 Summer Olympic Games were going to be held in Moscow and President Carter kept the US athletes home and out of the competition.
  • That boycott changed the behaviors of the Soviet leaders and the Soviet army not even a little bit.  It was not until the end of the 1980s that the Soviets pulled their troops out of Afghanistan – long after everything about the 1980 Summer Olympic Games had faced from memory.
  • Then in 1984, the Soviets chose to boycott the Summer Olympic Games that were held in Los Angeles.  About a dozen countries generally aligned with the Soviet Union joined that boycott which had no discernable effect on the Los Angeles Games.

An Olympic boycott is feckless; a diplomatic boycott of Olympic games is an expression of impotence.  And on another plane of thinking, would the US government change any of its fundamental behaviors based on our precepts because a foreign government made it clear to us that they think we are doing the wrong things within our borders?  I doubt it.  And so, we need to step back and be sure that we are not carrying a burdensome load of hubris when we take such positions.

When I read about this action being “under consideration”, I had to check and see what it meant to have diplomats boycott Olympic Games since I was certain that there were no athletic competitions reserved for members of the diplomatic corps of various countries.  If you did not know, First Lady, Jill Biden led a US diplomatic delegation to the Tokyo Games earlier this year.  Until this weekend, I was unaware of such a delegation, and I am still unaware of its purpose or its achievements.  But, now you know…

And while I am on the subject of useless and unproductive things, let me propose a Quick Quiz.  We have not had one of these in quite a while around here so let me pose the question and the form of the response:

What is the most useless and why:

  • Weekly NFL “Power Rankings”
  • Weekly College Football Rankings
  • “Bracketology” columns written in November?

Fifty words or less…

Finally, Dwight Perry had an interesting comment on another possible intersection between sports and politics in the Seattle Times over the weekend:

“House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spoke for 8½ hours into the early hours Friday morning in futile opposition to President Biden’s social spending bill.

“Veteran observers say it was like watching a Yankees-Red Sox doubleheader.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………