There is growing pressure on Joe Biden to cancel or limit U.S. participation in the Winter Olympics to be held in China beginning in February next year. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for American diplomats to shun the games, citing China’s genocide against the Uyghurs.
“Let’s have a diplomatic boycott, if in fact, this Olympics takes place. Silence on this issue is unacceptable. It enables China’s abuses,” she said.
“For heads of state to go to China in wake of a genocide that is ongoing while you’re sitting there in your seats really begs the question: What moral authority do you have to speak again about human rights any place in the world if you’re willing to pay your respects to the Chinese government as they commit genocide?” said Pelosi.
A couple of backbench House members have introduced legislation that would deny federal contracts to companies that sponsor the Olympics in Beijing. Rep. Mike Waltz, a Republican from Florida, and Rep. Tom Malinowski, Democrat of New Jersey, have jointly introduced the bill.
“They’re either going to do business with the federal government or continue to sponsor these Games. But we’re going to make them choose,” Waltz told Bloomberg. “Hitting their bottom lines seems to be the only thing that will ultimately get their attention.”
But no one gives the bill much chance at passage, given the billions of dollars at stake. That’s why a diplomatic protest of some kind appeals to so many politicians on both sides. It makes a totally useless statement and doesn’t hurt our athletes.
Nobody thinks empty seats at the Winter Olympics will radically alter policy in Beijing. The U.S. boycott of the 1980 Games in the Soviet Union didn’t lead Moscow to pull its forces from recently invaded Afghanistan.
But the president faces pressure, including from inside his own party, to deny Chinese President Xi Jinping the prestige that comes from playing host to world leaders at one of the biggest sporting events in the world.
“Prestige” is a nebulous concept and I doubt that Xi or the Communist Chinese care much if they lose any of it. They have the economic clout and soon, the military muscle to garner all the “prestige” they can handle.
Senator Mitt Romney is also urging a diplomatic boycott, which could become a reality soon.
Senators debating a sweeping bill to help American business compete with China added mandatory language enforcing Romney’s diplomatic boycott to the legislation, which could head to Biden’s desk soon, though it has been delayed.
(Romney explained American athletes should still go to Beijing in order not to squander what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but diplomats should stay home, and corporations should sunder ties with the Games.)
All of this sturm and drang won’t matter unless a sizable number of athletes take it upon themselves to boycott the games. If you’ve dedicated years to training, put your life and career on hold, just for a chance to compete in the Olympics, you aren’t likely to back out now to make a political statement.
The games will go on and China will be the winner.